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Senior NFL Columnist

Free-agent Musings: Falcons taking a risk signing aging Jackson

Up until Thursday afternoon, I thought the Atlanta Falcons had a terrific free-agency period, re-signing three of their key players.

Then they went and gave running back Steven Jackson a three-year contract.

You just don't pay aging runners in a league where you can find them in the draft. That's my belief.

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But I also remember when I ripped the Falcons for signing Michael Turner as a free agent, and that worked out well for a couple of seasons. I had to admit I was wrong. And I told the principles exactly that when it worked out for the team -- including Turner.

This time, it's different. Jackson is older. He'll turn 30 in July, which is ancient for a running back.

Jackson ran for 1,042 yards last season for the Rams, and his per-carry average was 4.1. Not bad, especially behind a line that wasn't very good. He has 2,395 carries on that body, which is a lot.

Here's something else that would concern me: He gained 4.4 yards per rush on carries 1-10 in a game and 3.7 on carries 11-20. That's telling to me.

I just don't see the explosiveness through the hole from Jackson anymore. He is more of a grinder. Yes, he's better than Turner, who labored to get to the line last season when he averaged 3.6 per rush, but how much better?

Jackson does take care of his body and will be a great teammate. I just think the Falcons are a fast team that plays on a fast track that needs a fast running back. Jackson isn't that. The Falcons might have been better off drafting a young back to step in and play right away. The Redskins showed last year that it can be done, and in a big way, with Alfred Morris.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is one of the best in the NFL, a guy whom I respect greatly. And he has proven many of us wrong before. But this is one that I will question until Jackson shows me different.

You can find backs. There's no need to pay guys when they're turning 30. This might turn out to be really a one-year deal and, if so, it might work out. But even so, why not draft a kid and turn him loose?

-- One of the signings I really liked from Thursday was the Saints getting Steelers corner Keenan Lewis. He is a smooth cover player who is coming off his best season. He can play man or zone, and the Saints badly needed an upgrade. His best football is in front of him. In a division with the Falcons, you have to defend the pass.

-- Matt Cassel to the Vikings. Oh, boy. If Christian Ponder doesn't work out, the Vikings are sunk, anyway. Cassel is just a backup. That's all he ever should have been. So if the Vikings think he is the answer, they should forget it.

-- The Eagles have totally revamped their secondary. I like the signings of corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. I also think if Kenny Phillips is healthy, he will help. Patrick Chung, the other safety that they signed, isn't very good. So give the Eagles good grades for three of the signings, but the fourth not so much.

-- Some will say the Colts overpaid for 49ers defensive end Ricky Jean Francois. But he's the type of player whom teams should sign, players who have their best football in front of them. He did a nice job in a reserve role for the 49ers and will be a starter in Indianapolis. The money is high with four years and $22 million, but this is going to be a nice signing in the end.

 
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