Free agent running back Steven Jackson made an appearance on SportsCenter Friday afternoon to discuss his playing future and made a few things perfectly clear.
To sum it up, Jackson feels that he has a lot of productive football left in him and is looking for a team that can offer him some quality touches, both in the passing and rushing game.
There was also talk about Jackson’s desire to play for a winner as that has never happened during his nine-year NFL career, one in which he topped the 1,000 yard mark in each of the last eight seasons. Only three players in NFL history have a longer streak of consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons than Jackson’s current run: Emmitt Smith (11 from 1991-01), Curtis Martin (10 from 1995-04) and Barry Sanders (10 from 1989-98). All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Then there is the fact that Jackson wants to go to a place where he can be a starter, telling Sirius XM NFL Radio:
“For where I’m at, going into Year 10, I’m not ready to step back and just become a primary backup or a reduced role guy to be part of a running back by committee. I still have a lot left in my tank. I still have a lot left to offer to a team. We’re not talking about someone that’s in Year 12 or 13.”
He could be a weapon for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the offense and immediately improve a ground attack that ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing a season ago and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.
As it looks now, the Steelers have only one running back on the current roster in Baron Batch. Restricted free agents Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are likely to be tendered contracts by the team, but while that adds depth, it does very little to improve the Steelers woeful rushing attack.
Since 2001, the Steelers have finished outside of the top half of the league in rushing only four times. They have missed the playoffs in three of those four seasons, including last year. That trend is something that they don’t want to see continue next season.
It almost seems like Jackson and the Steelers are too good of a match.
But that’s where the fairytale likely ends though.
Jackson is likely still going to want to be paid like a starting running back, although likely not an elite one.
Given the Steelers salary cap situation, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to cough up enough money to sign a guy like Jackson, even if it is an almost perfect fit and fills one of the team’s biggest needs.
While the Steelers have worked to get under the cap by restructuring the deals of Lawrence Timmons, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, they are going to still have to work to free cap space in order to sign their own draft picks and free agents, much less spending money elsewhere.
It’s more likely that the Steelers may take a run at former Pitt product LaRod Stephens-Howling, but at the end of the day, even he may end up out of their price range.
But back to Jackson, there’s nothing not to like about him in a Steelers uniform.
But like everything else it all comes down to money. If somehow Jackson would be willing to play for a very cheap contract, then I see no reason why the Steelers shouldn’t be one of the teams on his list.
But that’s doubtful and just wishful thinking.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers address the running back situation, with or without Jackson.