BBD Editor: Dan Hope
At a position where 30 years of age is often cited to be the “magic number,” it’s very rare to see a 33-year-old running back land a contract extension. But that’s exactly what Fred Jackson did with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday.
According to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Jackson’s extension is for one year, worth $2.6 million with an additional $1 million in incentives. The new deal will keep Jackson, who was slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, with the team through 2015.
Fred Jackson: “It’s every players dream to play for one organization. This extension gives me that opportunity”
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) July 30, 2014
A fan favorite for his reliability and leadership qualities, Jackson has rushed for 5,121 yards and 28 touchdowns on 1,138 rushing attempts in seven playing seasons with the Bills. He has also caught 256 passes for 2,139 yards and six receiving touchdowns.
Jackson’s underdog story adds to his likability. Undrafted in 2003, Jackson had stints with the Sioux City Bandits in the National Indoor Football League and United Indoor Football, and with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe, before he finally made his way onto an NFL practice squad with the Bills in 2006.
One of only two Coe College graduates to ever play in the NFL (the first, Carey Bender, was also a Bills running back in his brief stint in the league; Hall of Famer and former Bills coach Marv Levy also graduated from Coe, but never played in the NFL), Jackson started seeing playing time for Buffalo in 2007, and he has been one of Buffalo’s top two running backs every year since.
Unlike most backs of his age, Jackson hasn’t yet shown any obvious signs of slowing down. His 10 total touchdowns in 2013 were a career-high; his 1,277 total yards from scrimmage were the third-most of his career. His late start to his NFL career certainly plays a part in his ability to continue performing at a later age, but it’s also a testament to his durability and conditioning.
If age finally catches up with Jackson this year, Buffalo could regret this move. As he will be 34 years old by the time free agency opens up next offseason, it’s not as though the Bills would have had any serious competition for his services. In all likelihood, the Bills could have allowed the 2014 season to play out and re-signed him at a similar rate to what they just agreed to pay him in 2015.
With that being said, the decision doesn’t deserve a great deal of scrutiny. In a worst-case scenario that Jackson’s play drops off significantly before next season, the Bills could release him and suffer a cap hit no greater than $2.6 million. On the other hand, the Bills have rewarded Jackson’s loyalty to the team and put him in a position where he can now focus on 2014 without having to worry about where he will play in 2015.
The bigger picture in Buffalo’s decision to re-sign Jackson, along with their moves earlier this offseason to acquire running backs Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon, is what it could mean for one of Buffalo’s most prominent offensive playmakers, C.J. Spiller.
Brown, who the Bills received from the Philadelphia Eagles during this year’s draft in exchange of a 2015 conditional fourth-round draft pick, is under contract through 2015. Dixon was signed as a free agent in March on a deal that lasts through 2016.
With three running backs now under contract for 2015, it seems the Bills might be preparing for life beyond Spiller, who has the ability to become a free agent after this season.
That could be a smart strategy even if it’s only for preemptive reasons. Negotiations on a long-term contract have not commenced between the Bills and Spiller, who is in the process of searching for an agent, according to Matthew Fairburn to Syracuse.com. Unless the Bills plan to use the franchise tag on Spiller to keep him around next year, they must be prepared for the potential of losing him.
It’s been speculated, however, that his exit from the Bills could come even sooner. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora suggested this past weekend that “a trade market for Spiller could well develop over the next month.”
La Canfora’s suggestion was quickly brushed aside by many Bills fans and NFL analysts, but he could be onto something—he also foresaw Jackson getting a contract extension, which few were expecting this summer prior to Wednesday’s announcement.
If the Bills seriously believe they can make a playoff run in 2014, they shouldn’t deal Spiller. He’s still Buffalo’s most explosive big-play threat out of the backfield, and while Brown has similar physical traits, the Bills aren’t simply going to be able to replace Spiller’s impact with another back on their roster.
Should the Bills still be keeping their eye on the future, however, it’s possible they could look to move Spiller if they can get an early-round draft pick in return. If the Bills’ season gets off to a slow start, that could also give them incentive to trade Spiller if they can get something of significance from the other team.
Buffalo’s decision to trade a significant pick in next year’s draft for Brown, along with the report from Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com that the Bills attempted to trade up for former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round of this year’s draft, had already created a pretense that the team was looking for something new at the position.
Considering only his age, Jackson’s extension might make it seem as though the Bills are living in the past, but it could actually be another step toward a backfield headlined by someone other than Spiller.