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NFL NOTEBOOK: As it turns out, Falcons got a nice bargain in Jackson; owners approve two new rule changes

Steven Jackson's contract is heavily laced with incentives since the Falcons aren't really sure how much the aging RB has left in the tank.

Steven Jackson's contract is heavily laced with incentives since the Falcons aren't really sure how much the aging RB has left in the tank.

FLOWERY BRANCH — When running back Steven Jackson signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons last week, some questioned whether a team should pay that much money to a running back who will be 30 years old in July. Green Bay, a team that had interest in Jackson, especially raised its eyebrows and indicated the contract was too rich for them.

As usual, however, the devil is in the details of NFL contracts.

Upon closer review of his deal, Jackson received just $4 million guaranteed in the deal. However, there are no guarantees beyond 2013. Jackson received a $3.5 million signing bonus, while $500,000 of his $1.75 million base salary this year is guaranteed.

His salaries increase to $3 million in 2014 and $3.75 million in 2015, but if Jackson’s performance isn’t what the Falcons expect next season, they can release him and have only $2.33 million of signing bonus acceleration to contend with on the salary cap. In essence, the contract is for one year at $5.25 million.

Jackson’s cap charge is $2.917 million in 2013.

If Jackson continues to play at a high level, the Falcons will have a bargain, even if he is able to hit escalators that can add $1.75 million to his salary in 2014 and 2015.


OWNERS APPROVE TWO NEW RULES CHANGES, TABLE ANOTHER:

The NFL owners passed two safety-related rules Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting, but tabled two more controversial rule change.

One rule would ban peel-back blocks, and the other would keep teams from overloading one side of the defensive line on point-after and field-goal attempts.

The much-discussed, crown-of-the-helmet rule proposal did not come up for a vote. After a lively discussion of the controversial proposal, a vote was postponed until today.

The proposed rule would penalize a player who initiated contact with the crown of his helmet anywhere outside of the tackle box. It has drawn criticism from running backs past and present, including Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk as well as current Chicago Bears rusher Matt Forte.

Also, a vote on the infamous “tuck rule” is expected to come up Wednesday with all indications that it would be eliminated. The tuck rule allowed a fumbled ball moving forward in the hand of a quarterback to be called an incomplete pass.

The owners did pass a rule that the peel-back or chop block would be outlawed inside the tackle box. By the approved rule change, such a block would be a 15-yard penalty.

This likely will be known as the “Brian Cushing Rule,” after the Houston Texans linebacker who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season on an inside chop block.

As for place kicks, the overload rule was created because kick defense teams were rushing through the gaps created by lining up more defensive players than the offense could block. Defensive teams now can have just six or less players on each side of the snapper at the line of scrimmage. Players not on the line can’t push teammates on the line into blockers, either.


TEBOW A JET -- FOR NOW:

NEW YORK — As long as Tim Tebow remains property of the New York Jets, he’ll get a chance to compete for the starting job, head coach Rex Ryan told reporters Tuesday at the owner’s meetings.

Ryan said embattled incumbent Mark Sanchez will begin the offseason program as the starter, but his spot isn’t guaranteed.

“The first snap, he’ll be the guy running out there first, but there’s going to be competition at that spot, there’s no question about it,” Ryan said. “We need to get better at the quarterback position.”

Sanchez threw for 2,883 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, ranking him 26th in passing and tied for 25th (with new Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith) in touchdowns. He also tied Indianapolis Colts’ rookie Andrew Luck for third with 18 interceptions.

Tebow appeared in 12 games, mostly in the Wildcat formation, and completed six of eight passes for 39 yards. When Sanchez was benched for a game last season, the Jets started backup Greg McElroy.

“He’s on the roster, and he’ll get a chance to compete,” Ryan said of Tebow. “We’ll see how the offseason plays out, but right now Tim is on our roster.”

HARBAUGH DEFENDS BREAKING UP SUPER BOWL CHAMPS: It wouldn’t be surprising to see handwritten masking-tape labels on player helmets again at Baltimore Ravens’ training camp in July.

The names and faces aren’t yet recognizable to coach John Harbaugh, whose Super Bowl-winning defense lost five starters — including retired linebacker Ray Lewis — and faces uncertainty about the future of franchise fixture Ed Reed at safety.

“The worst mistake you could make is trying to hold a team together,” Harbaugh said. “It’s impossible.”

But Harbaugh said the decisions were about more than salary cap. He and general manager Ozzie Newsome decided not to make the mistake of trying to hold a team together for the sake of nostalgia and did their best to take emotion out of their evaluations. The Ravens will also add through the draft, which has been Newsome’s honey hole in recent years.

“If you try to stay the same, you end up getting worse,” said Harbaugh, invoking a Michigan coach Bo Schembechler phrase.

The Ravens made an effort to retain linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, but the contracts they earned in free agency were miles out of the reach of Baltimore’s means. The team understood the ramifications of its biggest move of the offseason -- a six-year, $120.6 million deal with quarterback Joe Flacco -- included spending free agency looking for bargains, not stars.

In addition to Kruger and Ellerbe, right cornerback Cary Williams and strong safety Bernard Pollard, who was released, are no longer on the roster.

The Ravens aren’t in serious negotiations with outside linebacker James Harrison, but have looked at the former Steelers’ pass rusher among other possible replacements for Kruger.

— Reuters News Service