Burwell: Jackson rumors remain just that

2012-10-30T14:20:00Z 2012-10-30T14:23:54Z Burwell: Jackson rumors remain just thatBY BRYAN BURWELL • Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist stltoday.com

Regardless of the sport, it's so easy to grasp at the gossip that swirls all over the place in the final hours before any trade deadline and regard it as gospel. Too often, though, the chatter is as unsubstantial as cheesecloth.

With the NFL's midseason trade deadline extended by 48 hours to Thursday afternoon, that leaves us 48 extra hours to ponder the silly idea that the Rams have placed Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson on the trading block and can't wait to dump him on anyone who calls.

Well, technically, Jackson is on the trade block.

Then again, who in the NFL isn't available?

All it takes is a phone call. All it takes is one panting general manager or overexcited coach not all that concerned about price being an object, and a deal could be done before lunch time. And that's not just for Jackson, but for Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning, Megatron or for that matter, a wild night out on the town with The Gronk.

If someone's willing to pay — or more accurately, overpay— then you, too, can be the proud owner of anything on your most outlandish wish list.

But now let's talk a little reality.

Neither the Jackson rumor nor any of those other fantasy-league daydreams are coming true, at least not any time in the near future.

Yes, the rumors are flying, and that means there have been conversations by a lot of teams about Jackson, most notably the running-back-starved Green Bay Packers. But wanting something and being ready, willing and able to pay for something are two entirely different things. It's the difference between dizzy dreams and stone-sober reality.

Dream: I want a mansion on a lavish golf course in Hawaii.

Reality: Public course. Coupons. Twilight rate.

It's what you can afford, or more accurately, what you're willing to pay that determines trades. And right now the only way Jackson is gone before that trade deadline is if the Rams desperately want him out of here at any cost, and that just doesn't seem to be the case. This isn't fantasy football, despite all the goofy fantasy-sports conversations that are dominating the public discourse on the blogosphere. Don't tell me you have to let him go if someone comes up with a first- or second-round draft pick in trade, because that's never going to happen.

Smart organizations don't give up high draft picks for 29-year-old running backs whose contracts are on the verge of expiring. I'm not sure that dumb organizations will do that, either. So that means no matter how many teams are calling — or how many smoke signals the Rams have subtly or not so subtly sent out that Jackson is available for the right price — he's worth far more to the Rams than the teams pursuing him.

Sixth-round picks are not the answer for Jackson. Neither are fifth-round picks or fourth-round picks. If a team is willing to give up real value, then that's worth a conversation. But from all indications, right now, all that folks are doing is window shopping. No one's talking seriously, or seriously enough.

The Rams' front office maintains that the organization hasn't hung a for-sale sign around Jackson, and they can't stop people from calling. I'm not sure I buy that spin. There's a reason inquiring minds are making those phone calls to general manager Les Snead. It's because a lot of smart people around the league believe that too many things are adding up to an intelligent guess that the Rams are slowly phasing Jackson out of their long-range plans.

A lot of things are adding up to Jackson being on the way out in St. Louis, and if you want to talk about that happening at the end of this season, I'd be glad to engage in that sensible conversation. But the Rams have to know that ditching him now will send a bad signal to the locker room. That signal? We've given up on 2012 and we're more interested in the future.

Eight games into the season, that's not the message any coach wants to send out.

Besides, the Jackson-Daryl Richardson combo is showing too much potential to shut it down now. This is what this team has been trying to find for seven years, and now that they have the perfect Thunder & Lightning complement, they're not going to scrap it so soon. And regardless of Richardson's obvious potential — or the occasional flashes that fellow rookie Isiah Pead is starting to show, or even the long-range potential of rookie power back Terrance Ganaway — none of these kids is ready to take on Jackson's job full time just yet. They're not ready to take on 250- to 300-pound defenders plowing through on the pass rush the way Jackson does.

They're still in the apprentice stage, and Jackson is the ideal teacher who can get them ready for the not-so-distant future.

However, it's painfully obvious that the Jackson era in St. Louis is drawing to a close. Too many things happening in the background that signal how the Rams are preparing the way for his eventual exit. The reworking of his contract, giving Jackson the power to opt out at season's end, was done to satisfy the running back's concerns that his scaled-back workload would prevent him from hitting the production marks that would trigger the player's right to qualify for free agency. But it was also done for selfish organizational reasons, too (the Rams don't want to be boxed into paying a 30-year-old running back $7 million next season. ).

And the repeated rumors that keep popping up about his uncertain future with the Rams can't be an accident, either.

But all that will reveal itself in the future. That future just isn't now.

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Bryan Burwell

Bryan Burwell covers a wide spectrum of sports as a columnist for the Post-Dispatch.

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