Fred Jackson 'annoyed' by no new deal
"He's the heart and soul of this team," is how left tackle Demetrius Bell put it.
The only thing missing, which Jackson acknowledges has left him "annoyed," is a new contract to go with it.
Two games into the season, the only place the NFL's current leading rusher is not making headway is with the Bills front office, where Jackson says he's gotten nowhere in a bid to renegotiate the final two years left on his contract. That includes this season in which he's set to make a base salary of $1.75 million, making him the 10th-highest-paid player on the team.
"We've approached them, and it's not gone the way we would've liked it to," Jackson told The Associated Press prior to practice Wednesday. "I'm annoyed by it. I've been playing at a high level for three straight years now. I would like something to be done about it this year. I want something done that's fair for myself and the team."
General manager Buddy Nix declined to comment, citing a team policy from discussing football business.
Unhappy as he might be, Jackson stresses he's not letting off-the-field issues distract him from what he needs to do come game time.
"Not at all. I'm going to play football," he said. "I come to help this team and get wins. And that's what I'm going to continue to do."
Jackson's gotten off on the right foot.
His 229 yards rushing lead the league, and he ranks fifth in averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Just as important, he's played a key role in helping the high-scoring Bills get off to a 2-0 start as they prepare to host AFC East rival New England (2-0) on Sunday.
Jackson had 112 yards rushing, including a 24-yarder that set up a touchdown, in a 41-7 season-opening at Kansas City.
He followed that up with a 117-yard, two-touchdown outing that sparked Buffalo's five-touchdown second half eruption in a 38-35 comeback win over Oakland last weekend.
It was a performance that caught his teammates' attention.
"We don't win that game without Fred Jackson. Bottom line," linebacker Andra Davis said, noting how Jackson opened the surge with an electrifying 43-yard touchdown run 1:34 into the third quarter. "Fred is the guy. It's good to see a guy like him get the respect and attention that he deserves. If anybody deserves it, he definitely deserves it."
The yards and headlines Jackson's generated have yet to pay off in salary. He signed his current deal prior to the 2009 season, when he was the backup to Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch was traded to Seattle last season, and Jackson's hasn't played second fiddle to anyone in Buffalo even after the team used a first-round draft pick to select C.J. Spiller last year.
Jackson has led the team in rushing in each of the past two years, in which he's combined for 1,989 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, including four receiving. And the fifth-year player is showing no signs of wear or tear now that he's turned 30.
Jackson has been a late bloomer in having taken the long road to make it in the NFL. After completing his senior year at Coe College in 2002, Jackson bounced around arena football leagues and NFL Europe before making Buffalo's practice squad in 2006.
With 3,089 career yards rushing, he ranks sixth among undrafted players since 1970. Jackson's also versatile, having been a capable receiver and dependable blocker in passing situations.
His performance and his past have all added up to Jackson being voted a team captain for the first time this year.
It's a reason why quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick called Jackson both "my favorite teammate of all-time" and the most underrated player in the league.
Jackson appreciates the respect and takes the role of leader seriously.
He's also counting on his performance to make a case for a new contract.
"I'm just saying I can lead this team. Give me the ball and I'll make plays for you," Jackson said. "It's both energizing and validating. But it's also motivating."
The Bills will need an electrifying performance from Jackson and his offensive cohorts to beat the undefeated Patriots on Sunday.
With that in mind, the team has rested wide receiver Steve Johnson in practice this week . Johnson is dealing with a nagging groin injury.
Prior to practice Wednesday, Johnson said the injury, which has been bothering him for a month, feels good and that it's responding to treatment. Despite a noticeable limp, Johnson continued to play through a 38-35 win over Oakland last weekend.
Defensive tackle Torell Troup practiced fully after missing the first two games with a strained back.
The Bills are trying to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Patriots.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.