What's in a backup? For the Lions, a lot of money

The B.C. Lions have managed to keep one of their two potential free agents, but at a cost. Backup quarterback Jarious Jackson signed a new deal with the team earlier this week, one which Lowell Ullrich reports is the league's richest for a projected second-stringer. As Ullrich wrote, though, the team ascribes more value to Jackson (pictured above in an August 2010 game) than merely providing insurance in case of injury to starter Travis Lulay:

But what the Lions bought when they agreed to a deal that will make Jackson the highest-paid backup in the league goes well beyond the $140,000, plus a signing bonus, he will make this season.

Jackson's value to the Lions is far greater to them than to any other club, and for that they paid accordingly. Buono knew what he had in Jackson and in the end, the reverse held true as well.

"I'm not sure how fans feel about him, but internally there's a tremendous amount of respect for him throughout the organization," Buono said Thursday.

"To different people he's different things. When he comes into the huddle, the guys believe him. When he's in the meeting room, the coaches have confidence in him. How do you buy that?"

From one perspective, this absolutely makes sense for the Lions. Jackson, a former Notre Dame star, has worn orange and black for six seasons now, so B.C. knows what they're getting from him. His career completion percentage of 54.7 per cent isn't what you want from a CFL starter, and neither is his 83.0 career quarterback rating, but he's proven to be a dependable backup. He may be turning 34 this season, but that's not such a bad thing in a league that favours veterans; five of the eight projected starting quarterbacks this coming season are 30 or older. Jackson knows the CFL well, and he's even more familiar with the Lions' offensive scheme; that's an important attribute, as B.C.'s backup isn't likely to get much scheduled playing time this season. If Lulay stays healthy, Jackson can contribute from the sidelines, but if there is an injury, he should be able to step in right away and at least give the Lions a chance of winning.

From another standpoint, though, this deal comes at a significant cost. The CFL is a salary-cap league, after all, and spending this amount of money on a backup quarterback does mean you'll have less to put elsewhere. Regardless of how great Jackson is as a locker-room leader or a sideline presence, he's getting an awfully large chunk of change for a guy who isn't expected to see much playing time. That's made more notable by the apparent lack of other serious suitors; Winnipeg was apparently considering him, but that never really seemed to go anywhere, and Toronto head coach Jim Barker said Friday he wasn't going to offer Jackson a contract without watching him throw (logical, considering the many injuries he's suffered over the years).

Still, on the whole, this looks like a good move for B.C. It's not as if there were other clearly apparent places to spend the money, as most of the promising free agents have already been snapped up, and they already made their big splash by signing Ben Archibald. Moreover, Jackson may look overpaid at the moment, but his contract could look like a bargain if Lulay goes down; he's one of the most experienced backups out there, and he's shown in the past he can be a capable fill-in over at least the short-term. Having a CFL veteran on the bench to lead and instruct Lulay is probably a good thing, too, and Jackson has been fine in a reduced role in the past, so he's unlikely to pull a Casey Printers. The Lions got their man, and despite the cost, he may prove to be a valuable piece for them.

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