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.