For the first time in nine years, there is a very real possibility that Steven Jackson will not suit up in a St. Louis Rams uniform.
The long time running back for the Rams announced at the end of February that he would void the final year of his contract and hit the free agency market for the first time in his career.
Jackson was a golden pickup for the Rams in the 2004 draft, where he slid all the way to the 24th overall pick due to concerns about his injured knee that caused him to miss the combine. The Rams signed Jackson to a five-year $7 million deal and he started his career under the tutelage of Marshall Faulk.
It took one year for Jackson to be named the starting running back. From then on, the rest is history, at least in the franchise. Jackson is the career-rushing leader for the Rams, and was one of the premier backs in the NFL, where he has rushed for over 1,000 yards the past eight straight seasons. He was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2006 and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year after finishing with 346 carries for 1,528 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Then things went downhill for the Rams. The team finished 3-13 in 2007, beginning the first of three straight years at the bottom the NFC West. After the 2007 season, with one year remaining on his rookie contract, Jackson held out before training camp and was rewarded with a six-year deal worth up to a maximum of $49.3 million, which made him the highest paid running back in the NFL.
Jackson struggled with injuries in 2007 and 2008, missing four games each year. But in 2009-2012 he has been the modicum of consistency, continuing his workhorse efforts and carrying the St. Louis Rams on his back.
It can't be understated how much Jackson has symbolized the Rams for close to the past decade. His 10,135 career yards with a Rams jersey on lead second place Eric Dickerson by close to 3,000 yards, and seems to be a franchise record that will stand for quite some time. His jersey will end up retired some day, but until then Jackson will most likely see some a few more years in a different city for the first time.
Despite the fact that no active player has rushed the ball more times than him, Jackson is still expected to commend plenty of interest in the NFL. With 2,395 rushing attemps, Jackson has close to 450 more attempts than Willis McGahee, who comes in at second most out of active players. Still, the Rams have been saving their star's legs the past couple of years. Jackson totaled 260 attempts in 2011 and 257 in 2012 compared to 324 in 2009 and 330 in 2010.
Jackson will most likely land on a team ready to make a playoff run where he doesn't necessarily need to be the premiere back. The Rams sit under the salary cap enough where they could possibly make a pitch to re-sign Jackson.
The Atlanta Falcons also seem to be a good fit for Jackson. The Falcons, who fell one game short of the Super Bowl last year, recently let go of running back Michael Turner. They have the cap-space to make a good offer to Jackson, who would pair with Jacquizz Rodgers and a high profile offense expected to make another deep playoff run next year.