News broke this Wednesday that the Buffalo Bills had agreed to terms on a one year contract extension with veteran running back Fred Jackson. A relatively simple deal, the extension added one year to Jackson’s current contract, which was set to expire after this season. In dollar terms, Jackson is set to make $2.6 million in 2015; however, the key point here is that none of this money is guaranteed.
On the surface, the extension initially raised a few eyebrows. At age 33, Jackson is the league’s oldest running back, so it is fair to wonder why the Bills would even entertain giving Jackson new money when their running back stable already includes C.J. Spiller, Anthony Dixon, and newly acquired Bryce Brown. However, as someone who has closely followed Jackson’s career with the Bills, this deal makes perfect sense. From age 26-30, “Fredex” only accumulated 817 carries, or an average of 163 carries per season. Definitely a late bloomer, Jackson still enters his age 33 season with fewer career carries (1138) than the likes of Steven Jackson (2552), Matt Forte (1551), Maurice Jones-Drew (1804), Reggie Bush (1190) and Adrian Peterson (2033). In fact, Jackson only has 95 more career carries than Jamaal Charles, who experts generally consider one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Although Jackson has been dinged by nagging injuries over the past two seasons, he has more than proven he can be an extremely productive asset to the Bills when healthy. In 2013, Jackson battled through several small injuries on his way to appearing in all 16 games. Even with somewhat limited work, he was still able to lead the team in carries (206), rushing yards (890), and rushing touchdowns (9), which included a respectable 4.3 YPC. The Bills were wise to at least entertain the thought of including Jackson as part of their plan even after the upcoming season, as the future for C.J. Spiller still remains cloudy. Spiller is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and to this point, no substantial talks of a new contract have materialized. Additionally, Spiller has been the subject of many trade rumors after the Bills traded for Bryce Brown during this year’s draft weekend. Back in early July, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com reported that Buffalo “would like Brown to develop into one of their lead backs.” This report led to speculation that Jackson’s time in Buffalo could be coming to an end, but his extension now puts the focus back on Spiller’s future with the team.
From a non-football standpoint, this move also represents a good faith effort on the part of the Bills to reward one of their true team leaders, and a player who has largely been the heart and soul of the team’s offense for the past five seasons. The Bills also protected themselves by ensuring none of Jackson’s 2015 salary would be guaranteed. Essentially, it allows for the Bills to bring Jackson back into the fold next year if he proves that his level of production during this year’s campaign is to the level we have all come to expect. Jackson has defied the odds throughout his career, so I have no reason to believe he can’t still be a productive player for the Bills in 2014 and beyond. As an undrafted free agent out of Coe College (Division III), which resulted in failed tryouts with multiple NFL teams, to time spent in the indoor leagues and NFL Europe, all the way to breaking out as the Buffalo Bills starter in 2009 (while also leading the NFL in all-purpose yards), Fred Jackson has earned this extension. At a minimum, he should once again be one of the focal points of Nathanial Hackett’s offense in 2014.