Among the many local and national NFL and Buffalo Bills beat reporters that have been involved in the story of Fred Jackson and his potential release over the past day-plus, Tim Graham of The Buffalo News has sort of been running point.
Jackson is not going anywhere - not yet, at least - and Graham has posted a detailed look at what went down at One Bills Drive as the team deliberated what to do with the veteran running back. Let's break it down.
Graham reports that the Bills discussed cutting Jackson outright, a move that would have saved them $2.73 million against the salary cap in 2015. He also reports that the Bills discussed the idea of re-structuring Jackson's contract in a way that would have paid him the same amount of money, while lowering his cap hit. But the final decision was to keep Jackson in the fold on his current deal, with no alterations.
The real intrigue comes in the secondary details, and on the depth chart behind starter LeSean McCoy.
The Bills' front office also wants to give Bryce Brown, acquired from the Eagles last year for a 2015 fourth-round draft choice, a better opportunity as McCoy's backup. Previous Bills coach Doug Marrone wasn't fond of Brown and deactivated him nine games.
A big part of the reason that Brown was deactivated was because he doesn't play special teams. A bigger part of the reason was that Jackson was simply ahead of Brown on the depth chart, and a more useful player in the offense. Brown clearly has the advantages of youth and upside, but it's hard to get behind the idea that Brown spent most of the season inactive simply because of Doug Marrone.
Also: if Doug Whaley wants to elevate Brown to the No. 2 role simply because he traded a fourth-round pick for him a year ago, that's problematic. The top reserve back should be the better player. If Brown gets that opportunity in camp and outplays Jackson, then so be it.
The Bills want their third-string back to be a special-teams contributor, and that's where Anthony Dixon remains the best fit.
Free agent target Bilal Powell, who Graham reiterates the Bills are interested in, would also fit this description. Where Jackson and Brown could conceivably battle for the backup role to McCoy, if the Bills pursue and wind up signing Powell, he could directly compete with Dixon for that third back role. Also worth noting: on a 46-man game day active roster, if you have four running backs on the team, it's much easier to dress all four if two of them can play special teams.
The 34-year-old Jackson amassed 1,031 all-purpose yards for the Bills last season. He remains a highly useful player on passing downs, and can also return punts. Buffalo's decision to keep him around for now doesn't guarantee him anything come the start of the season, but most fans would agree that Jackson has earned the right to compete to be a part of a team that is working hard to end its lengthy postseason drought.
Extremely humbled by all the fan support. Means a lot that so many people love to see me in play in a Bills' uniform. ✊— Fred Jackson (@Fred22Jackson) March 9, 2015