The Atlanta Falcons bolstered their offense on Thursday by reaching a three-year, $12 million deal with free-agent running back Steven Jackson, who was considered the best running back on the free-agent market.
“To the AMAZING Atlanta Falcons Owner, GM & Management team, I SINCERELY THANK EACH OF YOU for making this happen. I EAGERLY anticipate 2013!” Jackson tweeted Thursday.
The 29-year-old Jackson opted out his final season with St. Louis Rams to become a free agent after 1,042 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season. That was Jackson’s eighth straight season rushing for more than 1,000 yards. Had Jackson decided to stay with the Rams for his final season, he would have earned $7 million in 2013.
“Steven has been on our mind since the days leading into free agency,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We kept a nice cool, calm, collected approach to this. We had a good feeling that we were going to have an opportunity to consummate the deal. It was really easy navigating Steven’s agent, Eugene Parket, who was mindful of the approach we were taking in negotiations.”
Jackson, who will turn 30 years old in July, will be depended on to take the place of Michael Turner, who was released by the Falcons on March 1 after five dynamic seasons. Jackson is believed to fit coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offensive scheme because he is a better pass catcher than Turner.
Jackson has rushed for 10,135 yards and 56 touchdowns in the NFL since being drafted in the first round in 2004 by the Rams. He has caught 407 passes for 3,324 yards and eight touchdowns.
“It continues to bolster our offensive firepower,” Dimitroff told The Associated Press. “It gives us not only strength, power in running ability but also the versatility to catch out the backfield, which is a very important part of this offense.”
Jackson averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season while Turner only averaged 3.6 yards, setting a career low for him. Now Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has another viable target to throw to besides his talented receiving core. In eight seasons with the Rams, Jackson had at least 38 catches each season while Turner, who has a total of 70 career catches for 528 yards, had a career high 19 catches last season with the Falcons.
“We’re hoping he has his best years ahead of him, there’s no question about that,” Dimitroff said. “We think he still has much fuel in the tank and I know that he believes that.”
The deal with Jackson came two days after future Hall of Famer tight end Tony Gonzalez made the announcement that he plans to return for the 2013 season. Last year he said he was 95 percent sure he would retire.
With the addition of Jackson and the re-signing of strong safety William Moore and right Garrett Reynolds, the Falcons will be considered heavy favorites to win the NFC South and get back to the NFC Championship.