ATLANTA — Steven Jackson was conflicted.
The years of losing with the St. Louis Rams had taken a toll.
Unless a deal came across his agent’s desk that he liked, he was prepared to do a “Barry Sanders" and walk away from the game.
“I was thinking about maybe retiring," said Jackson, who signed his contract with the Falcons on Friday. “I really considered that. I really contemplated ‘do I continue to play football’ or ‘do I retire.’ That’s one thing I admire about Barry Sanders."
Jackson voided the final year of his contract with the Rams that was set to pay him $7 million. He talked to the Green Bay Packers, but preferred the Falcons, who offered a three-year contract that was worth $12 million, with $4 million guaranteed.
“It was something where I took my time with it," said Jackson, who flew in to sign his contract from the Bahamas (where the NFLPA is meeting) on owner Arthur Blank’s private plane. “We had a number of teams that we were looking at."
Jackson said he picked the Falcons because of their recent success with five consecutive winning seasons. He also noted the Falcons’ appearance in the NFC Championship game and how they came up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl.
“The philosophy and what coach (Mike) Smith brings, it just really made a lot of sense," Jackson said. “It looked like a marriage that was meant to happen."
The Falcons’ chances of landing Jackson improved drastically when future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez announced Tuesday that he was returning for another season.
“To be able to play with a first-ballot Hall of Famer (is great)," Jackson said. “He knows how close (the Falcons) are to going to the ultimate game and winning the Lombardi Trophy."
Jackson has been one of the more productive running backs in the NFL over his nine years. He’s rushed for 10,135 yards and has posted eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He’s also a pass-catching threat out of the backfield and has 407 career catches.
However, he has never played on a winning team and has reached the playoffs once, when he was a rookie in 2004. During that season, the Rams made the playoffs as an 8-8 team and were eliminated by the Falcons in the divisional round.
Jackson played hard through all of the losing and normally was the lone bright spot for the Rams.
“I have a never-(say)-die attitude," Jackson said. “That is something that I plan on bringing to this team. They don’t need much; they are already a good team. I’ll try to bring leadership and that relentlessness to this team."
Jackson said that he’s already friends with Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and that he really enjoys how White and fellow wide receiver Julio Jones block down the field.
He also won’t mind splitting time with Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield. They both played at Oregon State in different eras.
“I’ve known Quizz since he was a teenager," Jackson said. “To see him have that one run where he ran the guy over at midfield (in the playoffs), I literally jumped off the couch. So, I’m really looking forward to working with him as well."
When with the Rams, Jackson was basically the entire attack. He’s looking forward to being a part of the Falcons’ potent offense.
“Early in my career, I took great pride in being in the bell cow, the one guy that you could always depend on," Jackson said. “I’ve learned that over the years you did need some extra guys on your team to be successful in this league. To be another tool in the tool box is quite all right with me."
Jackson said he can’t wait to start practicing with the Falcons.
“I look forward to seeing some of the spectacular plays that are going to happen in practice," Jackson said. “There’s one thing about guys that make plays constantly, it seems like they make the better plays in practice.
“I’m looking forward to sharpening my tools and learning from Tony, learning from the guys on how to run routes. I enjoy doing that part of the game as well as protecting and working with the offensive linemen in the blocking schemes."