It can be difficult to know what’s going on inside the brain of Pete Carroll, a busy place where thoughts race around, bounce off the walls and, occasionally, collide into each other.
But Carroll’s mind was an easy read Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks traded running back Christine Michael to the Dallas Cowboys for what amounted to a trinket obtained at a state fair. Michael became expendable because the team was close to officially announcing the acquisition of Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, which brings us back to Carroll’s thought process.
“What NFL player,” Carroll had to be wondering, “is the 180-degree opposite of Christine Michael?”
That would be Jackson. Consider the tale-of-the-tape contrasts of his athletic career compared to Michael’s.
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High school: Michael, rated a five-star recruit and the No. 3 running back in the U.S., won the 2009 Walter Payton Trophy as the top high school athlete in America.
Jackson was a no-star prospect — he didn’t start as either a junior or senior at Lamar High in Fort Worth — and was not among the 13 players on his team to receive a college scholarship offer.
College: Before he was dismissed from the football program, Michael achieved early stardom at Texas A&M, where he was named the Big 12 Conference’s freshman of the year in 2009.
Jackson enrolled at Coe College in Iowa, an NCAA Div. III school that does not award scholarships. He earned All-America honors on the field and excelled off of it, graduating with a degree in sociology.
Professional: Despite his problems with the A&M coaching staff, Michael was selected by the Seahawks in the second round of the 2013 draft. He was signed to a four-year, $3.3 million contract, with more than $1 million guaranteed.
The undrafted Jackson was cut by several NFL teams before finding work with the Sioux City Bandits of various indoor football leagues. He was paid $200 a week (plus $50 per win). Jackson eventually got a tryout with the Bills, thanks to then-general manager Marv Levy, a Coe College alum.
NFL accomplishments: Michael has carried 52 times for 254 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards. He has never scored a touchdown.
Jackson has carried 1,279 times for 5,646 yards and caught 322 passes for 2,640 yards. He has scored 37 touchdowns.
Miscellaneous: Michael, 24, is more regarded for his potential than any tangible accomplishment. News of his trade to Dallas produced shrugged shoulders while a million Seahawks fans said something to the effect of, “Oh, well.”
Jackson, 34, was elected a team captain for the past four seasons, and the news that one of the most beloved pro athletes in Buffalo history was a salary-cap casualty last week angered Bills fans frustrated by a 15-year playoff drought.
Running backs preparing for their age 34 season don’t often inspire such emotion, for the simple reason 34-year-old running backs are rare. The perception they generally hit a wall at 30 is not based on a convenient round number. It’s a fact.
Most of the league’s all-time career rushing leaders either regressed at 30 or, in the case of Jim Brown, already decided to retire. All but a handful of them didn’t play beyond their 33rd birthday.
But there are exceptions. Marcus Allen enjoyed four quality seasons with the Chiefs after he turned 33. Washington’s John Riggins scored a league-leading 24 touchdowns at 34 and went on to co-lead the league again, with 14, when he was 35.
The late Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson ran for 1,048 yards in 1964 and represented the Steelers in the Pro Bowl. He also was 35.
As for Jackson, he figures to serve as a role player for the Seahawks. But what a role: Aside from giving his close friend Marshawn Lynch a breather every three or four possessions, he’s an eager and proficient blocker, a reliable target as a receiver out of the backfield, and a locker-room leader.
“He always does the right things,” Jackson’s ex-Bills teammate, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, told the Buffalo News last year. “He’s always in the right place. He practices hard. He leads by example. He speaks when things need to be different.”
Fred Jackson didn’t start in high school, wasn’t recruited to play in college, and had next to no chance of hooking on in the NFL, much less surviving and then thriving for eight seasons. If anybody is capable of bucking the decades-long pattern of running backs unable to carry on into their mid-30s, he is.
The most startling contrast between Michael and Jackson? Michael was a member of two Super Bowl teams. He owns a world-championship ring.
Jackson’s next playoff game will be his first.