Of all the veteran player transactions this offseason, I believe the single most impactful move -- one that will affect the standings, playoff seeding and football into January (and maybe February) -- was the Atlanta Falcons' signing of Steven Jackson.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Look, many teams made great, signature moves. Alex Smith will increase the Kansas City Chiefs' win total by six games. Percy Harvin will stretch the field for the Seattle Seahawks (if he can stay healthy). Greg Jennings was a big move at receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, but does he move the meter on the win total from last year or advance the team in the playoffs? (Do the Vikings get to the playoffs?) Darrelle Revis puts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in contention for the wild card. Anquan Boldin is a worthy acquisition who should provide clutch catches on the San Francisco 49ers. Wes Welker could catch 100 balls, but the Denver Broncos' defense isn't any better. Baltimore Ravens coup Elvis Dumervil will sack the quarterback. Mike Wallace represents an upgrade at receiver for the Miami Dolphins, but who thinks that team has enough to earn a trip to the postseason?
Meanwhile, Jackson is the right guy at the right time for the Falcons -- in every possible way. He adds leadership, power, speed, hands, balance and closing ability to a bona fide Super Bowl contender. Jackson equally helps Matt Ryan and the Falcons' defense.
Atlanta boasts one of the most potent passing attacks in the league, with Ryan spreading the ball around to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. But those guys need someone to take the heat off -- someone to pound the rock, provide balance and help protect fourth-quarter leads. Michael Turner wore down and wasn't reliable in the big spot. Jackson is a pro's pro, champing at the bit to play for a contender.
Debate: NFL's best receiving corps?
Is there any group of pass-catchers that can top Julio Jones and Co. in Atlanta? Our analysts discuss the elite of the elite. **More ...**
Talking to Jackson this week on my SiriusXM show, "Schein on Sports," the running back explained his role with the new team: "We might be in the teens carrying the ball, but I expect to catch the ball, too, out of the backfield, which will be another three or four touches. That will put me right around the high-teens. If I have that ability to make an impact on a game, and my tough running, hard-nosed, downhill running, we will definitely be able to close out games after establishing leads." Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Craig Kimbrel is the star closer for the Braves. Steven Jackson might turn out to be the best closer in Atlanta.
When this high-powered attack takes a lead, the Falcons need a runner they can trust. They need someone to protect the ball, move the chains, pick up the hard-earned yards. That's Jackson. Even with nine years of wear and tear, Jackson is still in great shape. At recent organized team activities and minicamps, he dazzled Falcons brass with his condition. Jackson was an elite runner with the St. Louis Rams for years. He wouldn't be considered that any more. Last year, he logged 1,042 rushing yards -- a far cry from the 1,416 in 2009. But that's irrelevant to the importance of the Jackson. His fantasy stats won't tell the story. Judge him by how he performs late in games. Judge him by how he keeps Atlanta's defense fresh and on the sideline. This gem of a move by Thomas Dimitroff impacts the entire team. Falcons defenders should be giddy.
For Jackson, it wasn't easy for the career Ram to venture elsewhere, but he said he was motivated by the Falcons' Super Bowl potential. In fact, he confirms there were "phone calls" with the Packers about the possibility of relocating to Green Bay. But understandably, Jackson was enamored with the Falcons' talent and how he could fit in.
"Each and every year, teams retool and refine their rosters," Jackson said. "I'll tell you what, we are in minicamp right now and we all know what we present on offense, but our defense is flying around. I think they understand there's a lot on them. People are not giving them the credit they want, and those guys are practicing like it. If we come out here and play to the potential of the talent we have on this team, we very possibility can be a threat (for the Super Bowl)."
There is a growing sense that Jackson could be the missing link to getting this team over the hump and into the Super Bowl. I think he generates a wonderful buzz and confidence in Atlanta. He is exactly what the Falcons need to make a long, sustained run.