Falcons just became a better team

The Atlanta Falcons' strategy early in the free-agency process was to keep their own players. But when you have a team that came up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, you have to step outside.

That’s precisely what the Falcons did Thursday afternoon when they agreed to terms with running back Steven Jackson.

Instantly, Atlanta’s running game looks a lot better than it did last season, when Michael Turner clearly was showing signs of wear and tear. Jackson comes with mileage of his own, but at 29 he’s younger than Turner (31) and he still was productive in St. Louis last season.

Jackson averaged 4.1 yards per carry while rushing for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns behind an offensive line that was less than stellar. He has handled as many as 346 carries a season in his career, but I don’t think that’s what the Falcons are seeking.

I think they’re looking for a running back who can handle between 200 and 250 carries and split time with Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons also want someone who can be efficient in short-yardage situations, and Jackson has a successful history with that.

Unlike Turner, Jackson also has been a receiving threat out of the backfield. In 2006, he caught a career-high 90 passes. I don’t think the Falcons will ask him to catch that many, but if Jackson can give them 30 to 40 catches, he will make the offense a lot more complete.

The Falcons released Turner last week. They also released defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson. Those moves put the Falcons even more yards away from the Super Bowl, but adding Jackson means they have bridged some of that gap.