Packers Need to Pass on Steven Jackson

steven jackson-running back

For several years now, the Packers have been searching for the answer at Running Back.

James Starks was seen by many to be the answer following his exceptional 2010 playoff campaign. However, his inability to stay healthy has caused him to lose luster in the eyes of the coaching staff, as well as the fans.

Alex Green was drafted in the third round in 2011, but he has yet to show consistency that is needed to call him the quasi feature back/number one back in Mike McCarthy’s offense.

DuJuan Harris seems to have found a home in Green Bay after bouncing around the league. He had an impressive stretch at the end of the 2012 season, but with only a handful of games under his belt, it remains to be seen if he is part of the solution long term, or the latest incarnation of Samkon Gado.

The running back position reached such a critical point last season that Ted Thompson reached out to vets Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant in an effort to fix a position which was in dire need of something. Anything.

For a team which prides itself on a high powered offense, the Packers seem to have more than a few question marks at running back. And while the Packers are most definitely a pass first team, Mike McCarthy has very seldom turned a game into “Air McCarthy”. He sticks with the running game, even when it is not working, just to keep the opposing defense honest.

When Steven Jackson decided to void the final year of his contract and become a free agent, many saw this as a window opening to solve the unrest at running back in Green Bay. The opportunity to get an established running back to complement the air assault led by Aaron Rodgers should be enough to make the Packers offense unstoppable.

When news broke earlier that Jackson was in Green Bay (albeit for an appearance since cancelled), it set the football world buzzing. It seemed that the hopes of many would be fulfilled, and Ted Thompson was finally going to use free agency to fix an area of need by signing a “big name” free agent, even though free agency doesn’t start for another week.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Too bad it would be a big mistake for the Packers to sign Jackson.

For starters, Jackson has a lot of wear and tear on his legs. A LOT. In his nine year career, Jackson has 2,395 carries, an average of 266 carries per season. That is a lot of abuse for one guy to take. Just to compare, since McCarthy arrived in Green Bay, the most carries any one back has had was 312 for Ryan Grant in 2008. Jackson has averaged just under that during his entire career, and we all saw what happened to Grant after carrying that much for a just few seasons.

Which brings up the second reason signing Jackson would be a mistake-his age. Jackson will be 30 when the season begins. Traditionally seen as the point in a running back’s career when they begin to slow down, there are no guarantees that he will continue to produce at the level he has been producing at. He could go over the 1,000 yard mark in 2013, or hit the proverbial wall. I find it difficult to think that Ted Thompson would be willing to spend the kind of money Jackson will want on a running back who may or may not still have “it”.

There is also the issue of his salary. Scheduled to make $7 million in the final year he is voiding, Jackson is going to command top dollar for his services. Considering the Packers were unwilling to spend the $10 million plus on Greg Jennings, it seems extremely unlikely that  Thompson will dish out roughly the same amount Jackson was going to make in St. Louis. There is also the issue of other players (Rodgers, Matthews, Raji) who are going to want extensions sooner rather than later, and there is only so much money that can go around. And it shouldn’t go to Jackson.

There is no doubt the Packers running game needs fixing. Some experts view it as the most pressing need on the Packers right now. However, signing Steven Jackson, while good on paper, would not be a long term solution. It would be another short term fix at best, and short term solutions are not Ted Thompson’s MO. They would be better off drafting a player like Eddie Lacy if he is still available in the first round then to settle on a back like Jackson, whose best years may be behind him.


  • Mark

    I strenuously disagree with this post. The Packers absolutely SHOULD to sign Steven Jackson. Here’s why…

    Yes, Jackson is 30 and yes he has a lot of “miles” in terms of carries. And yes, the 30 year mark is typically the beginning of the end for many/most RBs. But you have to judge these players as individuals. And Jackson isn’t like most RBs. Jackson ran the ball like a complete beast last year. He completely trucked Patrick Willis on more than one occasion. He’s rarely injured. By all accounts the guy is in amazing shape. Donald Driver shape.

    Next, I think the Packers would only need/expect 2 years from Jackson. 3 would be a bonus. Would a long term solution be good? Ideally yes. But where is that long term solution? In the draft? Who knows. But you do know what Jackson brings to the table. To me, signing him is a bold win-now move. If he plays like Steven Jackson, the Packers are in a position to run away with the North, and might get that Lombardi once again. And speaking of the draft, signing Jackson means the Packers DON’T have to address RB in this year’s draft and can use more picks on fixing the defense.

    Furthermore, look at how well Ced Benson did in the Green Bay scheme. Jackson is faster, bigger, and way better than Ced Benson. Stack the box on Jackson and Rodgers will pick teams apart. Play the pass and Jackson is going to get 4/5+ every time. The fact that he catches the ball really well adds another wrinkle.

    Another factor is Harris, who played really well last year. I think with Harris, Green Bay would be able to keep Jackson fresh over the course of the season in order to lean on him down the stretch.

    Another plus for Jackson is character. The guy won the Walter Peyton man of the year award in St Louis, so you know he’s a good guy and would probably add some veteran leadership in the locker room. He’s also extremely hungry for a ring, and who knows if he’d accept slightly less to play with a contender.

    I realize a Jackson signing would be very un-Ted. He’s known for letting veterans go, not adding them. But just like last year when we saw him trade UP (not down) in the draft, I hope Ted goes against the grain here as well. It’s all about winning championships. And with Jackson running and Rodgers throwing, we’d be impossible to stop.

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    • I was very much on the trade for Marshawn Lynch bandwagon a few years ago. And when it didn’t happen, that is when I realized that Ted will never go out and buy a running game. It has and probably always will be secondary to McCarthy in the offense (unless they luck into drafting the second coming of Barry Sanders) so there is no need to press the issue by going out and signing an aging albeit consistent back like Jackson.

      He might give you 1,000 yards-or this might be the year he starts to break down. There is just no way to know. And to sign a guy who has missed only 2 games in the past 4 seasons to continue to evade injury, after the beating he has taken, is a risky proposition.

      I wouldn’t say Benson did well in Green Bay-he never really had the chance to get his season going before getting injured. He was getting better. But it is worth pointing out Benson has 800 fewer carries then Jackson does in his career. I’d bet we see Benson back in GB before we saw Steven Jackson

      One thing I didn’t point out is how would Jackson respond to playing all of his home games outdoors? Remember he’s had the luxury of playing in a dome in St. Louis his entire career. Would he be able to put up solid numbers in the cold of December in GB? How much did he benefit from the fast track inside during the cold months of the NFL season?

      I’m really excited to see what Harris can bring to the team in 2013. However, it’s with cautious optimism. Can he continue to develop? Or was what we saw at the end of 2012 the best he can be? Time waits to determine that. He’s probably too small to be the feature back, and take the abuse that comes with that. But he could be a nice number 2 guy. I just don’t think the number one guy should be Jackson.

      Ted firmly believes in building from within. Signing Jackson would be a stop gap solution, and go completely against his own philosophy. Sure there’s question marks with anyone you draft, but there’s also question marks with any free agents he may sign. Steven Jackson has a lot of them, too many for my liking.

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  • Mark

    Ok John, been stewing on this for a few days, and as The Dude says, there’s a lot of ins and outs, lot of what have yous, I mean things aren’t always, you know…I mean, hey man, new sh*t has come to light!

    So with that, here is my counter to your counter…

    You make this point:

    “[the running game] always will be secondary to McCarthy in the offense (unless they luck into drafting the second coming of Barry Sanders) so there is no need to press the issue…”

    The first part of this statement I totally agree with. In an offense with Aaron Rodgers, the running game will always be secondary. Rightfully so. Rodgers is our guy, the franchise.

    But the second part of the statement is where you lose me. Are we a pass-centric team? Definitely. But that has zero to do with us being accepting of a sub-par run game. The run game and pass game don’t live in separate worlds. They co-exist and drastically effect one another. If a defense has to account for a run game, the pass game becomes TONS more effective. Nobody respected the Packers rush attack last year, it was 2-3 yards every time, and Rodgers took 51 sacks (most by any QB in the league). A good ground game will get you out of trouble when you’re pinned deep. A good ground game can kill clock and keep an opposing team’s offense off the field. A good ground game will succeed in short yardage situations and keep drives alive. I know you know all this, but that’s why you kind of lost me with the “no need to press the issue” comment–I think there’s most definitely a need to press the issue. Can the Packers be good without a run game? With Rodgers, sure they can. But will they win a title? I doubt it. Keep in mind the last time this Packers offense had a consistent and threatening ground game was when Starks went on a late season tear in 2011. Result? Super Bowl.

    Ok, so if we can agree that the Packers need a run game (and I suspect we do agree), the question then becomes: is Steven Jackson the guy to do it? You said no because of “too many question marks” and that the Packers would be “better off” with a guy like Lacy.

    I’ll address the second part first: Lacy. I actually like Lacy as a prospect. I suspect he’ll be a good pro, but it can be hard to predict. He did run behind the best o-line in college football. Mark Ingram, another recent late 1st rd Alabama back, is hardly setting the world on fire in New Orleans. The Packers spent a 3rd round pick on Alex Green who hasn’t really panned out (and got hurt). Starks hasn’t been able to stay on the field. The guy that helped us the most last year, oddly, was a car salesman from Florida. So it just goes to show you how, until you get NFL game film on a guy–it’s just hard to know what you have.

    And there’s another obvious/HUGE side benefit of signing Jackson vs drafting Lacy–you can take that late round 1 pick and draft some other big difference maker for your football team (last time Packers had the #26 pick we took a fella named Clay Matthews).

    So accepting the draft as a bit of a crap shoot, let’s look at the Steven Jackson question marks: you mention age/wear and tear, and his career playing indoors.

    First the age/wear and tear…

    Will Jackson fall off at some point? He has to, sure. But I just don’t see it happening this year or maybe next. Here’s why.

    The tape: — watch his game tape from last year. He’s fast and he’s trucking guys.

    Change of scenery: in St Louis Jackson was running behind a dreadful o-line on a team with a so so passing attack. In Green Bay he gets a better o-line (and one that, if healthy, could be great). And he joins a team with a lethal pass attack. Both these factors (along with Harris) could keep Jackson fresher, and more effective.

    Hunger: In interview after interview, Jackson talks about winning. He wants to play for a contender. He wants to win. The guy has always been known for his endurance/fitness. So you know he’ll come to GB in great shape. More than that, he’ll be fired up and re-energized.

    Injury history: there basically is no injury history with Jackson.

    The point about running outdoors is valid, but I also don’t see it as a huge factor. Jackson ran outdoors at Oregon State and he’s run well on grass and outdoors in the NFL. I’m just not worried the guy will disappear on a new surface.

    So all this brings me to your final point: salary. Hey, reality is reality, and the Packers do have to pay people. We all know it. But watch this recent Jackson interview with Peter King, specifically starting at the :36 mark where Jackson talks about his history with Rodgers, and how they’ve wanted (and talked about) playing together:

    Now we know Rodgers is a guy totally focused on winning. His legacy in Green Bay, and in football, matters a lot to him. He’s also no fool: winning means endorsements. And having a run game means he might not have to take such a pounding all the time, and might even extend HIS career a couple years. So knowing that Rodgers wants Jackson, isn’t it possible that the Packers signing Jackson might have a positive effect on the Rodgers negotiations? Rodgers is already set for life. And he’s about to get paid a ton more. I really think he’s the sort of guy who might accept slightly less if it meant bringing in a guy like Jackson.

    Time will tell.

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    • ” being accepting of a sub-par run game…”

      How much of that is the playcalling (see John Kuhn draws which haven’t worked since 2010) or the line which is just not built for a power running game? That is part of the reason the running game doesn’t work. But I don’t think it’s a matter of accepting a piss poor run game. It’s more about not having the talent to support a strong run game.

      I get that’s where signing Jackson would fix that. He’s an established back who could/should be able to make a difference. But Ted is just not the type to spend money on guys not already on the team. He would much prefer to continue and (try) to build a running game, rather than going for the quick fix. His age and tread are just too much for my liking, but there’s a reason I’m not in charge

      Like you said, time will tell. I will be shocked if Ted actually pulls the trigger and signs Jackson, even after the persuasion of Rodgers.

      Time will tell.

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  • Tangysizzl

    Signing Jackson is a good idea because the positives simply outweigh the negatives. Yes hes gonna be 30 this season and yes he has over 10,000 yrds on his body. Hes also gonna cost a nice little chunk of change to sign him. Those are the negatives.

    The fact that hes played on turf for 8 or more games a season for his entire career could make a difference but I just don’t see it. I’ve seen him play in the elements and on grass and I didn’t see any discernable difference in his abilty to run the ball. Tackling this guy is a chore in and of itself but tackling him will be much harder late in the season when its 10 degrees out and hes trucking you with his 235 lb battering ram of a body. Hes just not the type of back who will be affected tremendously by the playing surface IMHO.

    Mark already talked about all the positives of signing Jackson on offense and in a round about way the effect it could/should have on the defense without actually saying it. Thats the point Id like to expand on, the defense needs Jackson as much or more than the offense does. Im sure we can all agree that the offense will be ok without a Steven Jackson but the poor defense could really benefit from every extra second they spend on the sidelines.

    Overall its a risk yes but the rewards are greater IMO than any risk you take signing the guy. It shouldn’t change the draft strategy any either, other than to say TT won’t need to reach for a RB. Isn’t that kind of what free agency is for anyway, try and fill your immediate needs there so you don’t feel compelled to reach around better players in the draft to fill specific positional needs. How else do you pass on drafting Barry Sanders for Tony frickin Mandarich??? Ok that may be a bad example because its before my time but it makes a solid point.

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    • I am just very reluctant to think that Ted is going to spend the money Jackson is going to want for an almost 30 year old RB who has a ton of carries under his belt. It’s a short term fix at best, and Ted just doesn’t operate that way.

      Sure he would probably help by being able to run down the clock during close games. Assuming he were to stay healthy, that would be a nice plus to the offense. But what if-just speculating for a minute-that this is the year he can’t do that anymore. Whether its age, the o line, the play calling, or a mix of everything, that Jackson slows way down this year. Then what? They’re stuck with a guy making a huge salary who doesn’t perform near the contract he signed.

      Like I told Mark, time will tell to see if anything comes of this. I am very curious to see if Ted pursues Jackson. Very curious.

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