In its relatively brief time in St. Louis, few things within the Rams franchise could be described as consistent.
Since 2004, one of those has been running back Steven Jackson.
Drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Jackson was brought in to be groomed as Marshall Faulk’s replacement. In that season, the two split carries and combined for over 1,400 yards.
By his sophomore season, Jackson had assumed the starting role from Faulk, starting 15 of the team’s 16 games and finishing with 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. If there were questions about Jackson’s ability to replace Faulk, a legend in his own right, they were answered in that 2005 season.
That was the first of seven straight seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing and over 1,200 yards from scrimmage. In 2006, Jackson led the NFL with 2,334 yards from scrimmage. Jackson was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Now, that constant is shrouded in questions. On the verge of his eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season, Jackson isn’t guaranteed to be a member of the Rams past the team’s next two games. A reworked contract this past offseason will allow Jackson to opt out of the last year of his contract and become a free agent.
For his part, Jackson isn’t ready to talk about anything past this season.
“I have two games for sure,” Jackson said after Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “We have a decision to make in the offseason, but I will seek the counsel of some people that I have great respect for and I don’t think about that. I still have two games to do my job and to do it at the way that I play, I need to be completely focused on that.”
While Jackson holds the keys, it’s unclear what role he might have if he were to return to the team next year. Jackson will be 30 years old by the start of the 2013 season, an age at which backs – especially those with the type of workload Jackson has carried throughout his career – begin to see a decline.
Jackson has also begun to see a decline in playing time. The emergence of rookie Daryl Richardson paired with a concerted effort to keep Jackson fresh will likely result in Jackson receiving the fewest carries of any season in his career in which he played a full slate of games. Even if Jackson decided to return for a 10th season, it may not be as a feature back.
It’s unfortunate timing for the star running back. Jackson surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards in the loss, which effectively eliminated the team’s playoff chances. The franchise rushing leader will likely finish the season 26th on the all-time rushing list.
“It just means that I’ve been blessed to be consistent, to be durable in this league and to go out there and just be effective when I had a chance,” Jackson said.
There’s that word again.