With the 2012 NFL season in the books, Steven Jackson can look back on a year of hard work, hard running, and hard-earned moments of glory.
His Rams finished the season 7-8-1, an impressive and monumental turnaround from finishing 2-14 just a year ago. Steven carried the rock 257 times for 1,042 rushing yards, becoming only the sixth player in NFL history to post 1,000 yards for eight straight seasons. He also finished the season with 10,135 career rushing yards, a noteworthy feat attained by only the toughest and most skilled of NFL running backs.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, S-Jax knows he will also have to look ahead to the future. In the offseason, Steven has the option to become a free agent, which has led to relentless speculation and prodding as the season progressed.
Now, it seems, the questions are finally unavoidable. But as No. 39 looks to the future, he shares the thought most football fans seem to have; it would be nearly impossible to picture Steven—who has called St. Louis home since his rookie season in 2004—in a different uniform.
“Certain guys, you just can’t imagine them in another uniform,” he said. “I don’t think I or anyone else can imagine me in a different uniform as well.”
As it is, that option still exists, though it seems a route neither SJ nor the Rams organization would care to take. Steven has made it perfectly clear on multiple occasions that there is but one destination he is set on: staying put in St. Louis. It’s the place where his career started and where he would like to see it someday end. Rams Coach Jeff Fisher shares that sentiment.
”I think everybody in the building would like to have him back,” Fisher said. “It’s just a matter of us sitting down and working things out.”
After Sunday’s loss in Seattle, SJ39 shared his thoughts on the subject with his teammates in the locker room before expressing his wishes to the reporters gathered at his locker.
“My agent and the (Rams) will sit down. The organization has been first-class with me,” he said. “To even give me the chance to be a free agent, that just shows the respect that we have for each other. We’re going to keep an open mind and hopefully get this done.”
Steven was also forced to clarify statements he had made last week when he hinted at retirement thoughts he may or may not entertain.
“What I said was that I would seek all options and that would be something that is an option for me. But I love the game of football and I feel like I still have a lot left in my tank. Let’s just get the deal done, how about that?”
Those words are music to the ears of Steven’s teammates and fans, as well as the front office of the St. Louis Rams. SJ39 has long been the backbone of the team and a pillar of the St. Louis community. The desire for Steven and the Rams to work out a deal keeping him in St. Louis for the next several seasons is paramount, but Steven will still have the luxury of options.
Steven was asked if the prospect of NFL suitors was appealing to him, but made it clear he’s still more about the team than himself.
“What’s exciting is being a part of something that was dead and you’re a part of it being alive again,” he said, clearly referencing the Rams’ renaissance in St. Louis. “That’s exciting.”
The team seemed to share a similarly optimistic outlook for the future, even after Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. After years of obscurity, SJ39 and the Rams took this season with a vengeance, defying the odds and turning in a successful season. Young players stepped up into their roles, S-Jax and the other vets set a precedent of hard-work and determination, and new head coach Jeff Fisher ushered in a new mentality of winning.
“This team is definitely headed in the right direction,” Steven said. “There’s a lot of talent here. The free agents that we signed in the offseason came in right away and made an impact on this team. Anyone that follows the team closely sees that we are a different team, a team to be reckoned with and the NFC West will have to deal with us.”
A different team, indeed and one that NFC West opponents will fear for years to come. Three of the Rams losses this season were by a touchdown or less, and they were able to finish with an impressive 4-1-1 NFC West record. Truly the future looks bright in St. Louis. The Rams will likely look to improve in free agency and have the luxury of two first round picks in April’s draft.
If no one knew what to expect from the Rams heading into the 2012 season, the hope is clearer leading up to 2013. The Rams have slowly but surely developed, and SJ39 has been a vital part of the process. As Steven put it, we’ve seen two different Rams squads in 2012. In the early months of the season, they were a squad that could not find its feet and suffered close losses because of it. But as the season progressed so too did the Rams, showing maturity beyond their years and proving that a St. Louis Ram doesn’t go down without a brutal fight.
S-Jax credits positive moves made within the Rams organization as the fuel behind the turnaround.
“Coach Fisher has done a great job. Mr. Kroenke, that was a great hire,” he said. “There weren’t too many candidates out there that I really looked forward to playing for, but he nailed that one and got it right with Coach Fisher. I’m very excited about what Coach Fisher is building here. His coaching staff is very credible. They’ve done a good job of getting us prepared week-in and week-out and Coach Fisher is already one of my favorite coaches in this short amount of time.”
In addition, Steven gives credit to the man he shares the backfield with quarterback Sam Bradford.
“Sam has all the attributes to be a great leader, a great quarterback in this league and you see year-in and year-out how he’s progressing,” SJ said. “The major thing now that we want to build is consistency around him. Not have so much turnover as far as offensive playcalling and offensive coordinators. Once he gets settled in, we’ll truly see what we see on the practice field on game day.”
While a quarterback always needs receivers to throw to, a dominant and experienced running back is often a passer’s best friend. No. 39 has showed time and again he can shoulder the load. But even when he isn’t toting the rock, SJ’s presence opens up play action possibilities, and he is often able to lay bone-chilling blocks to keep Bradford safe.
“I don’t even think I could tell you how much I would like to see him back here,” Bradford said, regarding Steven’s upcoming negotiations. “I am going to beg him to stay. He told us after the game that he bleeds blue and gold and he wants to be here so hopefully we can make it work because like I said he is so valuable to this team and to this locker room. To have him coming back would mean a lot.”
At 29 years of age, Steven has accomplished more than most NFL running backs ever get to, even topping the 10,000-yard career mark this season. But he still has much left to accomplish from a team standpoint. He has yet to be a part of a team that has made the playoffs or even finished a season with a winning record. He can see that the writing is on the wall for both to happen very soon in St. Louis and would be remiss if he wasn’t there to see it through.
“I would hate to watch this organization go on and be successful, which I think they will, without me,” he said. “I want to be a part of that.”
As one of the core members of the St. Louis Rams, the gap left by SJ’s potential departure is not something his teammates would care to consider.
“I love Steven,” defensive end Chris Long said. “I love having him as a teammate. I think he is one of the all-time greats and I’m just lucky to have him as a teammate. I don’t know the business side of it. I really just hope to see him back here. I know he hopes to be back here. I’m sure they’ll work it out.”
Steven’s hopes ring similar. As the offseason begins to unfold SJ39 will be able to weigh out the options and do what is best for him at this point in his career. As of yet, No. 39 is still enjoying the season that was, and has not mapped out a personal course for the negotiation process.
“I don’t have a timeline for a decision,” he said. “We will probably sit down with the organization as soon as possible. But the organization has to do their due diligence and decide where they want to go with the roster. We have to sit down on our end and make sure that we’re crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s. But we’ve agreed to sit down and I expect that it will happen soon.”
For Steven, the future is bright no matter where he lands. He remains, even after nine seasons, one of the league’s toughest and most successful running backs. He will undoubtedly be a prime asset for any organization that brings him on. He only hopes that organization is still the St. Louis Rams.
“I will allow myself that time to sit back and reflect on the things that I have accomplished in my career, what I’ve done this season, and think about how much longer I want to play the game, as well,” he said. “It’s gonna be a small window of opportunity, and I wanna make sure I take advantage of it. I’ve always thought about what my exit strategy is going to be. If I had to write my story, I’d rather go out like Barry Sanders and want people to want more, than to leave too late.”
- Jackson tells Rams he wants to return (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 31, 2012)
- Expectations Will Be High for Rams in 2013 (KMOV.com, December 30, 2012)
- ‘Hope is a Good Word’: Rams enter offseason with optimism (BND.com, December 31, 2012)
- Jackson Hopes for Deal to be Worked Out (BND.com, December 31, 2012)
- Rams hit offseason with new sense of life (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 1, 2013)