Jackson earns his extension

A raise worth $3 million for Bills running back Fred Jackson was long overdue. Buffalo’s favorite underdog finally got his contract extension and will be with the team through 2014.

Jackson’s story is well documented. His journey to the top of the Bills depth chart was capped last season when he amassed enormous chunks of yardage before a broken leg sidelined him late in the year. His low salary put Jackson on the potential line of backs to be ushered out of Buffalo by young talent. In fact, Jackson’s emergence was a big part of Marshawn Lynch’s trade.

However, Jackson’s value to the Bills offense far exceeds what Lynch ever did for the team and management recognized that. Maybe he should have gotten his dough during the season, but the Bills made sure not to mistreat him for too long. The contract raises his salary to $4.5M per year and locks up the team’s three best weapons (Jackson, Stevie Johnson and FitzMagic) long-term.

I do expect Jackson’s touches to go down some next season as C.J. Spiller has also earned the right to see some actual playing time. While Spiller’s strong finish may take carries away from Jackson, it gives the Bills the opportunity to build a proper thunder and lightning duo with their backs. Spiller’s waterbug tendencies and recent effectivness on the ground paired with Jackson’s tenacious running style gives Buffalo a terrific backfield combo.

Even with diminished carries, Jackson’s role in the offense will not change. He was the main reason that the lack of a deep passing game wasn’t an issue for nearly seven weeks. Jackson was far and away the team’s MVP and proved it on a near weekly basis. Pairing him with Spiller makes the Bills’ running game far more dangerous as the 2012 season approaches.

There was some chatter that directly linked Jackson’s contract to the release of Drayton Florence. While the money lines up well, I don’t think that the Bills necessarily made a choice of Jackson over Florence. Rather, I think the team identified the need to get Jackson’s extension done and knew they should find a way to balance the payroll. Florence’s release, while sudden, was going to come one way or the other. The Bills were going to likely cut Ledois McKelvin or Florence due to the two new corners brought in at the draft and Florence was the casualty. Whether that money was to be saved and allocated towards Jackson now or in training camp breaks down to nothing more than semantics.

Now, I think that Florence provides a physical presence that the Bills defensive backfield desperately needs. I also think he is far more effective that McKelvin will be for them. McKelvin should have been an easy choice based on production. However, Florence’s age and struggles likely trumped McKelvin’s stupidity, production and god-given talent.

Regardless of who was cut, ensuring that the proper funds were available for Jackson is what is most important. The Bills have begun to make a commitment to being a winning football team and they are making all the moves to prove it. Jackson was a major piece of the puzzle that has nearly been completed by Buddy Nix, Chan Gailey and the rest of the organization.

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