Fred Jackson wants (and deserves) a multi-year contract.
Problem is, he probably won't get it. After finishing just his second NFL season, Jackson is an exclusive-rights player. He's not a free agent, thus Jackson can't lobby for a big deal. Jackson can only re-sign with the Bills, who only need to pay him $460,000 on a one-year tender.
But as he recently told ESPN, Jackson craves a long-term contract with the Bills. He turns 28 in a couple weeks, so it's not like the backup running back is some young buck you can stash away for the future. Instead of risking a hold-out and inking Jackson to the tender, Buffalo should embrace this underdog. Jackson, the one-time Division III no-name, should be the Bills' No. 1 running back this season.
Underused all season, Jackson was easily the offense's most explosive weapon. Marshawn Lynch may have the bullish "Beast Mode" nickname, 20-carry games on his treads and sense of entitlement a first-round pick gets. But Jackson is simply better. He's faster around the edge and hits holes with more authority. In two seasons, Jackson has run for 871 yards on 188 carries for a he-needs-to-be-fed-more 4.6 yards per carry. Lynch, with more than double the amount of attempts, is averaging 4.1 yards a clip over two years.
Offensive coordinator utilized Jackson more than Steve Fairchild did, but still not enough. Against Miami in Toronto, Jackson didn't receive a touch. After the game, he didn't sulk. Didn't so much as challenge Schonert's play-calling.
But in the last two games – with Lynch sidelined – Jackson looked like a top 10 back. He keyed both of Buffalo's key touchdown drives in a win at Denver, en route to a 113-yard day. And in the finale against New England – when Mother Nature told everybody in the building that Jackson was getting the ball play after play – the silky smooth runner rang up 136 yards on 27 carries on the 10th ranked ‘D' in the league.
His contract status is out of his control. It's up to Buffalo whether or not to reward Jackson with a long-term deal. The Bills can easily tender Jackson and render him to a change-of-pace role again. After all, Lynch is the one with the No. 1-back contract.
Jackson knows this.
"I don't feel helpless, but there's not a lot I can do," Jackson said to ESPN's Tim Graham. "I did as much as I could on the field. I felt I was able to make plays and contribute when I was asked to. …I did as much as possible. I think the organization will take that into account. We'll see what they want to do."
He could hold out like Ryan Grant did in Green Bay last summer, but he probably won't. Whereas Grant had the 1,000-yard outburst to point to, Jackson can only attest to what 'could have been.' On paper, he's still a Kenneth Davis.
Outside of three 100-yard games (which Buffalo all lost, mind you), Lynch only managed 656 yards at 3.4 per carry last season. Too often he sputters uselessly in the backfield, fighting himself out of yardage. During the Bills' midseason collapse against 3-4 defenses, Lynch strung runs horizontally prematurely and is too slow to gain the corner. Jackson, on the other hand, doesn't dance. He's the best fit for the Bills' behemoth offensive line, which doesn't leave holes open for too long.
Now, the Bills should obviously employ a two-back attack next season. Both Jackson and Lynch can anchor a lethal rushing attack. But somebody needs to be the bell-cow back in the fourth quarterback, somebody needs to see the bulk of the touches. Rather than short-change Jackson with a slap-in-the-face tender, the Bills need to invest in Jackson. Over this past decade of futility and bad luck, Jackson fell out of the sky into the team's lap. An instant expresso for an offense starving for weapons.
Maybe the best addition for Buffalo's offense already is on the roster. Giving Jackson a four-year deal and loading up his workload may be the biggest change Buffalo's offense needs.
Click here to read why Marshawn Lynch should be the primary ball-carrier according to Adam Beilman.