The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries in 2015, and ended up with 21 players on injured reserve. The running back position was no exception with both starters, Dion Lewis and later LaGarrette Blount being lost for the year.
This was compounded by the early season losses of Tyler Gaffney and fullback James Develin. So the Pats brought in veteran Steven Jackson who has a Hall of Fame resume but hadn’t played at all in nearly a year after closing out 2014 with the Falcons. Jackson appeared all but retired, and stated he didn’t want to return unless he had a chance to appear for a Super Bowl berth.
“It helps me close a chapter on my terms,” Jackson said. “That’s what I always stressed … if I went back to the NFL it had to be for a team that had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.”
The Patriots signed the 32-year old running back and he appeared in the final two games of the regular season and gained just 50 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown, which was more a statement on the state of the offensive line than him. His one shining play was a 20-yard catch and run in Miami he had on a pass from Tom Brady.
In the post-season facing two very good run defenses in Kansas City and Denver, Jackson had 24 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown (his first professional post-season score) against Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
Now both he and the Patriots have a decision to make, does he want to come back for one more chance at a ring with a team that is always in the hunt or does the back who will turn 33 right around the time of training camp decide to call it a career after gaining 11,435 yards and 69 touchdowns in his time? Had the Patriots made the trip to Santa Clara this week, that question would be a no-brainier, but now there still remains a sliver of hope for him to try it one more time.
Do the Patriots entice him back for a final chance and give him the opportunity to not only win a spot on the roster but contribute meaningful snaps for the offense? Or do they go with either different, younger players in free agency and/or the 2016 NFL Draft?
Jackson obviously wasn’t the player he was back about 7-8 years ago when he was a dual threat both running and catching the football out of the backfield. But his meager stats in four games weren’t the result of him having nothing left in the tank either. He is still a serviceable running back and he was in surprisingly good shape for someone who hadn’t played in nearly a year.
Why Jackson Will Return: Jackson got a small taste of what the Patriots can bring to the table offensively when the playoffs started with an almost healthy receiving core. Starting a season with an upgraded and healthy offensive line and the return of Dion Lewis would be a bonus.
They won’t be asking him to carry it 20+ plus times per game, but contribute as a role player at this stage of his career, something he’s still capable of doing. He’d still have to win a job during training camp as they’ll undoubtedly bring in some younger talent during the spring.
But Bill Belichick has always admired him and loves his veteran presences on a team. He could be signed for the veteran minimum with the chance to hit some incentives along the way.
Why Jackson Won’t Return: The Patriots will most definitely look to add youth in the upcoming draft at the end of April and thru free agency. As in the case with Blount, they could extend an offer for a chance to come back and win a job in July, but may decide that it is just time to move on.
In Jackson’s case, his comments when he signed, sounded like someone who was all in 2015. He may just decide that his bust in Canton will not involve having a Super Bowl ring attached to it.
Bottom Line: There is always a chance that Jackson returns for a final swan song for his career. Belichick loves veterans who can lend leadership along the way when the going gets tough. Players like Brian Cox, Roman Phifer, and Ted Washington all come to mind when thinking about those earlier Super Bowl teams.
He admires Jackson and spoke about spending an entire day with him when evaluating him for the draft when SJax was a rookie. There is a slight possibility of them asking him to come back for one more shot.
But I think that Jackson will take the decision out of the team’s hands. I believe that he’s going to call it a career and ride off into the sunset and explore other career opportunities closer to home. The odds on him retiring are about 80 percent. The small chance of him not doing that is the fact that he hasn’t announced it yet. I’m sure he’s coming to that decision and will announce it soon.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Post season 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots 2015 Patriots Season 2016 free agents 2016 NFL Season Bill Belichick Dion Lewis free agency James Develin LaGarrette Blount New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots running backs Steven Jackson Tom Brady Tyler Gaffney