Bills: Is Jackson Becoming Expendable?

The Buffalo Bills have a problem, actually they have a lot of them. But, one of those problems is a good one. The Bills are having trouble deciding which back to feature in their offense. For better or worse, Fred Jackson may see his role diminish down the road.

Jackson's future is in question due to Spiller's success

   C.J. Spiller may be costing Fred Jackson more money every time he gains a yard.

   The emergence of Spiller, a 2010 first-round draft pick, over the last few weeks comes at a bad time for Jackson, the man Spiller replaced in the starting lineup after Jackson suffered a leg injury in November against Miami.

   Jackson began the season hot and was leading the league in rushing at one point. At the time of his broken fibula, he was third in rushing and second in yards gained from scrimmage and was on track to play in his first Pro Bowl. Also, Spiller was an unproven player who was beginning to hear the word "bust" being used to describe him because he'd really done nothing for the Bills in the first year and a half of his career.

   However, now that Spiller has become the No. 1 back and is proving to be capable of handling the role, the Bills must consider what they will do with Jackson. The veteran is 30 years old and has one more year left on a contract that vastly underpays him. It was a bone of contention early in the season, and Jackson expressed anger about it, saying he deserved a new contract. When that dirty laundry was aired, he met with general manager Buddy Nix and stated publicly that Nix gave him assurances that he would be taken care of, a shrewd move that put the ball in Nix's court.

   Soon thereafter, Jackson watched the Bills signed free-agent-to-be Ryan Fitzpatrick to a six-year, $59 million extension, and eyebrows were raised, but Jackson remained steadfast in his belief that Nix was telling him the truth and that his deal would get done in due time.

   Now we'll see, because 30-year-old running backs aren't exactly in demand, and the Bills very easily could make Jackson play out the final year of his contract and then let him see what he could get on the open market as a 31-year-old running back. Remember, Spiller was drafted by Nix, in part because he wasn't sure if Jackson was a true No. 1 or just a really solid third-down back.

   Of course, there is evidence that the Bills may not believe that Spiller is up to being the full-time back, if coach Chan Gailey's play-calling is any indication. Jackson became an every-down player this year, someone who could carry 25 times and be targeted seven to eight times in the passing game and also pass-block when called upon. Gailey has refused to give Spiller all of that responsibility so far.

   Since the Nov. 27 game against the Jets when he started, Spiller has not had more than 19 carries, and he just enjoyed his first 100-yard rushing game in the Bills' victory over Denver. Gailey said he doesn't want to "wear the guy out" so he has been utilizing newly signed Tashard Choice in several packages, much to the baffling dismay of fans and media.

   Choice, who has been cut by Dallas and Washington this year, played for Gailey at Georgia Tech, so there is a connection. He was given 14 opportunities against the Broncos -- he rushed nine times for 27 yards, and he had five passes thrown his way, catching only one for minus-8 yards. That's 19 yards gained on 14 opportunities. Spiller had 138 yards from scrimmage with 19 opportunities. What really had fans screaming was that Spiller did yeoman's work most of the game getting the Bills into the red zone, and then he would come out in favor of Choice. The Bills scored only one touchdown in six red-zone penetrations and, by the way, that was a 4-yard run by Spiller.

   "First of all, he made about three long runs in a row a couple times and he was dead tired, so we were trying to get Tashard in there," Gailey explained. "Then on the goal line, we have Tashard. He's a bigger, stronger back, and that's why we put him in there in the goal-line packages. It wasn't set up for it to be that way completely. It just worked out that way where (Spiller) made three long runs and needed a blow, and that's when we were in the red zone."

   Spiller isn't in a position yet in his NFL career to question his usage, so he just rolled with the decision of his coach.

   "There are packages where I just come out for a blow sometimes," he said. "(Choice) is kind of like our third-down guy, and he just stayed in there, so there really wasn't any frustration. Of course I want to be in there, but at the same time, you've got to understand as a player what you bring to the table."

   If Gailey doesn't think Spiller can handle a full load, it would seem like the Bills would want Jackson back. The question is, will they be willing to lock him up to the long-term deal he wants?

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