COMMENTARY | Consistency at featured running back has eluded the San Diego Chargers in recent years. On this year's National Football League free-agency market is the picture of consistency and possible answer to the Chargers' rushing woes, Steven Jackson.
Jackson will enter free agency on March 12, per his agreement with the St. Louis Rams organization to void the final year of his contract. A big, powerful back, Jackson offers precisely what has lacked in the Chargers backfield since the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson following the 2009 season.
Jackson finished 2012 with 1,042 yards rushing, marking the eighth consecutive campaign in his nine-year career he surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone. In contrast, San Diego has had just one 1,000-yard rushing season in the last four when Ryan Mathews broke the barrier in 2011.
San Diego expended its first-round draft pick on Mathews the year prior, but the Fresno State product's struggles with injuries and fumbles have cast a cloud on the Chargers' running back situation. Mathews was tabbed as heir to a depreciating Tomlinson, on whom the franchise powered its resurgence in the mid-2000s. Its efforts to replicate his production have repeatedly fallen short.
The free-agent market has contributed to the Chargers' rushing woes, not alleviated them. With Tomlinson still at his peak, the backfield lacked room for Michael Turner following the 2007 campaign. He signed with Atlanta and had a career season of 1,699 yards. Darren Sproles also posted a career-high for rushing yards his first season after departing San Diego, going for 603 with the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
The forthcoming free-agency class is highlighted with running back talent, making this the year for the Chargers to reverse fortunes. Reggie Bush is a San Diego product, honing his craft at Helix High School before embarking on a stellar college career at Southern California.
But Bush has been repeatedly rumored in association with the Detroit Lions. And Bush has yet to excel as an every-down back at the pro level, despite coming off a strong season with the Miami Dolphins.
New York Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw shines -- when he's on the field. Should Chargers general manager Tom Telesco acquire Bradshaw, he is taking a similar risk with his insurance policy to Mathews that the organization has endured with Mathews. Bradshaw has missed six games the last two seasons.
With Jackson, San Diego gets the most accomplished every-down back in a league where such players are increasingly at a premium. His 10,135 yards rank him as the Rams' all-time career leader, ahead of Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson.
He has accrued such lofty numbers avoiding the injury bug. Jackson has not missed more than one game any of the last four seasons. Consistency of this level would give the Chargers offense desperately needed stability and take some of the onus off quarterback Philip Rivers.
A move to bring Jackson on board would not necessarily constitute a white flag on the Mathews experiment. On the contrary, a season spent sharing carries with a potential Hall of Famer should relieve the fourth-year Mathews of both pressure and mileage.
Telesco would need to make moves in order to free up salary cap space to land Jackson. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reports the Chargers have a little over $7.4 million, almost matching the amount Jackson is leaving in the final year of his St. Louis contract.
A one-year contract could net Jackson $8 million. That's a considerable investment for one player, but the impact the running back would have is a worthy investment.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist and blogger. He covers the University of Arizona for the Rivals.com network site GoAZCATS.com, and is the founder/managing editor of the college football site SaturdayBlitz.com. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.