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Steven Jackson's departure makes sense for him and the Rams

Steven Jackson was the Rams' first-round pick at the 2004 draft. (G. Newman Lowrance/AP)

Steven Jackson was the Rams' first-round pick at the 2004 draft. (G. Newman Lowrance/AP)

Steven Jackson will void the final year of his contract with the Rams, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchreported, which comes as a surprise only because of last week's rumblings that Jackson wanted to stick around. The fact of the matter is that an amicable split is the right move for Jackson ... and for the Rams.

Jackson has played his entire nine-year career with St. Louis, topping 1,000 yards rushing in each of the past eight seasons. He did so again in 2012 (1,042 yards), despite the Rams picking and choosing their spots for him -- his four touchdowns tied a career-low number.

The 29-year-old Jackson said back in January that he would consider retirement this offseason, but he clearly has something left in the tank. Enough, actually, that he will be the top free agent running back available come March.

Instead of staying in an increasingly clustered St. Louis backfield, Jackson now has the opportunity to land one last big-money deal, while also jumping to a Super Bowl contender.

And for the Rams, while losing Jackson weakens their backfield for now (and likely leaves their fans a bit disappointed), Plan B is already in place. St. Louis drafted a pair of running backs in 2012 -- Isaiah Pead in Round 2; Daryl Richardson in Round 7.

Richardson quickly became a surprise contributor for the Rams during his rookie season, putting up a combined 638 yards rushing and receiving. He stands to see even more action next season, possibly as St. Louis' No. 1 back.

But it's Pead who might be in line for a meteoric rise. During Peter King's NFL combine tweetup, ESPN's Adam Schefter pegged Pead as his pick for 2013's breakout player, assuming Jackson departed in free agency. Pead missed OTAs, then played just 42 snaps last year, though he averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 5.3 yards per catch in that very limited duty (10 rushes and three receptions, respectively).

The Rams also will clear Jackson's $7 million contract from the 2013 books. That's money that could come in handy as St. Louis assesses the rest of its in-house free agents, most notably wide receiver Danny Amendola. Bradley Fisher, Barry Richardson, Brandon Gibson and William Hayes are a few of the other key names on St. Louis' pending free agent list.

As for Jackson's future, the Falcons quickly have arisen as the leader in the clubhouse for his services. With Michael Turner facing a likely release, Atlanta could soon find itself in need of a reliable, versatile back, and Jackson certainly fits the bill there.

Other contenders who could use a boost at RB include Pittsburgh and Green Bay, to name a couple.

Regardless, Jackson should find a new home that fits both his running style and desire to return to the playoffs (his last trip was in 2004). And while the Rams will be disappointed to see him go, they're in fine shape to move on in the post-Steven Jackson era.