As breakups go, this one couldn't have gone more smoothly.
The Rams get credit for being honest with Jackson about where he stood in their rebuilding plan. They get credit for giving Jackson the ability to opt out of his contact this offseason. That option spared the team from releasing its career rushing leader.
Steven Jackson joins a Falcons team that made it to the NFC Championship Game last season.
Jackson gets credit for giving his all to the Rams in every way last season even though he knew the Rams were moving in another direction. He remained a team leader. He was someone coach Jeff Fisher and staff could count on. He never put himself before the team. He never whined.
In the end, the Rams were not willing to pay Jackson's $7 million salary for 2013. That was understandable. While Jackson just completed his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, he was no longer a game-changing running back. He certainly was not the future.
Jackson, for his part, was unwilling to take less money from the Rams when he knew the team wasn't committed to him. That was understandable. He wanted a chance to win a championship and figured those chances would be greater elsewhere. The Falcons do indeed appear closer than the Rams to that goal.
The departures of Jackson and receiver Danny Amendola this week leave holes for the Rams to fill. Both epitomized toughness and team play. Both were productive when healthy. But the Rams have a strong leader in Fisher. Every player on the team rightfully deferred to Jackson from a leadership standpoint. Perhaps quarterback Sam Bradford and others can step forward more aggressively in that regard.
Of course, leadership in the absence of production produces no traction. The Rams need better players, not just younger ones. They'll presumably draft a running back next month, perhaps with one of their two first-round choices. They are presently negotiating with Miami Dolphins free-agent left tackle Jake Long, who would instantly become a leader on the strength of his four Pro Bowls in five seasons. Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan are productive players and leaders on defense.
We often hear about head coaches "changing the culture" when they take a new job.
Jackson represented what was right with a too frequently dysfunctional Rams culture over most of the past decade. He also provided a high-profile link to a painful era in Rams history. Every victory he enjoyed came in the context of the pain that had come before. Fewer Rams players share that link as Fisher and general manager Les Snead turn over the roster, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Rams are moving forward, away from a painful recent past. Same goes for Jackson.