I did a little question and answer session Friday morning on Twitter (you can follow me here), and one topic that comes up quite frequently in my inbox and these tweet sessions is the future of Fred Jackson. I don't believe the Buffalo Bills should extend his contract, and people disagree with me. The running back turns 31 on Monday.
Here's what history shows us: running backs break down after the age of 30. Just look at some of the top rushers from the early 2000s who had little success after their 30th birthdays. It's a list of superstars, MVPs, and Hall of Famers: Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis, Clinton Portis, and Jamal Lewis, just to name a few. Holmes was named All-Pro a few months after turning 30, and never started more than eight games in a season again. Bettis made a Pro Bowl at 32, but did it by starting only six games. That's it as far as league awards for that great crop of backs.
In 2011, Willis McGahee rushed for 1,199 yards and was a replacement in the Pro Bowl. He turned 30 halfway through the season and wasn't expected be the starter in the backfield going into the season. Injuries gave him the bulk of the Denver Broncos' carries and he responded, though he played through injuries himself as the season wore on.
Jackson was having a Pro Bowl season in 2011 and on pace for almost 1,500 yards on the ground when a broken leg cut short his year. With that said, relying on him to be an every-down back for the majority of a new three or four-year deal is not good business, in my opinion. Yes, he should be rewarded for his great play - and a team like the Bills, who have an up-and-coming back he can share carries with, makes perfect sense. But Jackson is expecting to be paid like a top-tier starter in the NFL.
On September 1, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson set the bar for that group of running backs, signing a six-year, $55 million contract with more than half of it guaranteed. Jackson out-scored and almost out-gained Johnson in 2011 despite playing in six fewer games. He deserves to be paid like Johnson for past production, but that type of contract would be an albatross around any team's neck when Jackson starts to slip.
We also need to address the concept of the Bills rewarding Jackson for his good play to show others that they will get long-term deals if they perform. Buddy Nix has already shown he is willing to do that with extensions for Erik Pears, Kyle Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Garrison Sanborn and Rian Lindell. How many players need to be extended for their young players to see that it's a trend?
So what say you, Bills fans? With Jackson's 31st birthday just around the corner, should Buffalo offer a lucrative three- of four-year contract north of $6 million a season?