The Buffalo Bills have been unusually active over the past year, re-signing top players and pursuing additional stars to assemble a team to make a serious playoff run. They nabbed the top defensive free agent in Mario Williams with a $100 million contract, and then added DE Mark Anderson, both of whom can play alongside last year’s number 3 overall pick Marcell Dareus in new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, after their 5-2 start, they signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a contract extension. This off season, they signed top wide receiver Stevie Johnson to an extended contract as well. The last piece of the puzzle for this team appears to be running back Fred Jackson, who is under contract for the coming season but not beyond.
Jackson was having an MVP caliber season last year before going down in the tenth game with a broken leg. Through nine games, he had six 100-yard rushing games, and was averaging over 100 yards per game. He also had 442 receiving yards, and was on pace for over 2,300 yards from scrimmage.
“Last season was great,” he said. ”It was one of those things where I finally got the chance to show what I was capable of doing. Any time you get that chance, you want to go out and make the best of it. I felt like I was able to do that. Unfortunately (the season) got cut short due to injury.”
“Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my professional career. But if anything, it has just made me more motivated to go out this year and play.”
The Bills have former first round draft pick C.J. Spiller and former Dallas Cowboy Tashard Choice at running back as well, but Jackson proved last year that he was one of the top all around backs in the league. Spiller filled in well for Jackson, but didn’t generate nearly the kind of production that Jackson was getting.
The Bills have said that getting Jackson signed to an extension before training camp is a priority for the team. “Fred and I have visited a couple of times,” said Bills general manager Buddy Nix. “I told him we’re going to offer you an extension”
Nix added, “We had priorities with guys that were unrestricted that we didn’t want to lose. I told him when we get through it we’ll at least do it before training camp. That way there’s no chance of him getting hurt. He’ll be healthy and he’ll have an extension before he goes to camp. We’ll be as straight as we can with him.”
Regarding the timing, Jackson is confident that it will get done. “It’s what I expected,” Jackson said. “We felt like we had to make some moves in free agency, so I wanted them to concentrate on that. He gave me his word that we’ll get something done. He’s a man of his word, so something will get done about it.”
That still leaves the question of distribution of the football next season. Last season, Jackson was the featured back and got the vast majority of the carries before his injury. Bills head coach Chan Gailey was asked this week at the NFL owners’ meetings about the share of the carries between Jackson and Spiller.
“That’s a great problem to have by the way — to have two great players,” Gailey said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “There is only one football, and you got several guys who can make plays.”
Gailey added, “Everybody is not going to be happy. That’s part of it. So, you do the best you can to try to use C.J. and Fred in different ways to get them the ball, because they’re capable of making big plays when they have the ball in their hands.”
However the ball gets distributed, signing Jackson to an extended contract, alongside the rest of the Bills offensive weapons and their rejuvenated defense looks like a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. And in the division, with the always-powerful Brady-led Patriots and the Sanchez-Tebow-led Jets makes the AFC East one of the most interesting races to watch this year.
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