For the first time in his professional career, Steven Jackson is stepping out of the familiar blue and gold of the St. Louis Rams to seek a new home elsewhere in the league as an unrestricted free agent.
This decision was not without emotion for Steven; St. Louis has been his home since he entered the league in 2004. But ever the quintessential professional athlete, the opportunity to contend for the championship is of the utmost importance.
“I’ve decided to go and seek free agency and see what’s out there with the other 31 teams and try to win a championship,” Steven said. “That’s the main goal. I’ve had an illustrious career in St. Louis and I enjoyed my time there. But I have to go on with my professional career, join another team and hopefully we win a Super Bowl.”
Steven did more than make his home in St. Louis—he owned it. Over nine season, SJ39 emerged as one of the toughest running backs in the league, and is the Rams all-time career rushing leader with 10,135 yards. He also became a leader on and off the field for the Rams organization, known widely as one of the true “good guys” in the National Football League.
But over the course of last season, it became evident the Rams coaching staff was intending to reduce Steven’s carries in order to bring along younger running backs for the future. Indeed, when SJ sat down for a heart-to-heart with Rams officials last week, they revealed their plan for the future, one that could include Steven, but only in a reduced role.
“At this point where I’m at, and where the Rams are right now, we had a very open discussion, very heart-to-heart, about what my role would be going forward from now. And that’s where the disagreement comes in. It wasn’t about salary.”
Steven just completed his eighth-straight 1,000-yard season, and believes he is primed for a ninth, so stepping into the type of running back by committee St. Louis was looking to implement isn’t something he’s ready to do.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that under first-year head coach Jeff Fisher, Steven’s percentage of touches on offense were a career-low for seasons when he started at least 15 games.
With no plans to let his role continue to dwindle, S-Jax wished the Rams, who will likely deploy a pair of young running backs that learned under Steven, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, well and is ready to take the next step with an organization that wants him to be the lead back he knows he still is.
He explained in an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio the choice to leave the only NFL team he has ever known, as well as what he is looking for in the future
“I have opted out of my position of being with the team and being comfortable because I want to continue to still be the bell cow. So that’s how I want teams to look at me, that’s how I’m going to shop myself,” he said. “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.”
Still, Steven harbors no bitterness towards the St. Louis organization.
“I understand. I understand the business side of it,” he said. “I still have a great relationship with the organization and one day I’ll be going back there.”
S-Jax remains a preeminent competitor, not to mention still one of the toughest rushers to bring down to the turf and leaving St. Louis also offers him the chance to seek a situation he’s always dreamed of: playing for a contender.
Steven underscored the ability he still has, and made it clear he wants to apply that ability to a Super Bowl contending organization. After nine years spent playing for a team that never had a winning record, SJ39 owes it to his own legacy to make that boyhood dream come true. He spoke of that opportunity in an interview with Bloomberg Sports Radio:
“I’ve had a lot of individual success, I’ve yet to have that team success. The thing that makes the game great is because of championships and making playoff runs.”
Fans, analysts, and scouts around the league agree S-Jax can still bring a lot to the table for a team with their sights set on a Lombardi trophy.
Steven’s understanding of the business-side of the NFL should pay him huge dividends in the free agent market, even if he has never shopped there before.
By opting out of his contract last Thursday, Steven gave teams plenty of time to consider his services, as the signing period won’t begin until March 12. There will be other big name running backs testing free agency, but Steven made sure to get his name out there quickly.
It is certain a number of teams will want to have a chat with Steven. While he knows he will undoubtedly have a new stadium to call home, not knowing where that will be is understandably unnerving—even for a renowned world-traveler like SJ39.
“You’re nervous about your future,” he said. “You become accustomed to a certain way of life. You have to get on board with a new team, a new franchise, and get acclimated with a new city. Those are the challenges, but all good things.”
In his various media appearances on Thursday, hosts and interviewers dropped the names of some teams that could possibly be a good fit for Steven. Teams like Atlanta, Denver, and Green Bay jump to the top of the list as Super Bowl contenders in need of solidifying their backfields. But while he discussed the different options, SJ was mum on whether he was leaning in a certain direction.
“I’m well aware of what teams may be looking for a running back, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to sign a veteran running back. They could wait for the draft. I haven’t come to any conclusions of where I may or may not land. Teams — just like they do in the draft — all posture and all use the poker face, so we won’t know who’s interested until it actually starts on March 12.”
Wherever he goes, Steven is hopeful of signing a three or four-year deal. While he turns 30 this summer, Steven made it clear he has the body and mind to continue to battle in the NFL for some time.
“To be a complete running back, you have to be able to run, pass block, catch the ball, make plays from an explosive part of the field. I’ve always taken great pride in that. There are always ways to get better, and I try to explore those things where I think I’m lacking.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Steven was asked whether he would go to a contending team if that meant he had to split time in the backfield, a la his recent situation in St. Louis. SJ39 made his answer clear.
“I feel great. My desire to continue to play this game is as strong as ever,” he said. “I’m still a franchise running back. I’m not at that point in my career yet where I feel that I need to become just a leader in the locker room. I have a lot of good football left in me, and whatever team sees my value and wants to bring me on board, that’s where I’ll be headed.”
- Steven Jackson looking for a “contender” (Sports Illustrated, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson still wants to be a starter (ESPN.com, March 8, 2013)
- Steven Jackson leaves Rams to seek NFL title as free agent (Bloomberg Sports, March 7, 2013)
- Jackson won’t settle for reduced roll (St Louis Post-Dispatch, March 8, 2013)
- Steven Jackson ‘would listen’ if Big Blue is interested (Bleacher Report, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson voids St. Louis Rams contract (NFL.com, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson, now a free agent: ‘I’m still a franchise running back” (Huffington Post, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson says Rams wanted him to take reduced roll (Pro Football Talk, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson didn’t want committee roll (ESPN.com, March 7, 2013)
- Steven Jackson still sees self as bell-cow running back (NFL.com, March 7, 2013)