Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson says he's not going to lose his underdog mentality now that the team has given him a big pay upgrade.
"Without a doubt, that's never going anywhere," Jackson said Monday after signing a two-year contract extension with the Bills. "That's kind of what got me where I am today."
Jackson, the product of Division III Coe College, the indoor-football minor leagues and NFL Europe, now will have his star-status as an NFL running back validated in his paycheck.
Jackson had one year left on a deal he signed in 2009. It averaged $1.87 million a year. His extension, through 2014, includes $8.7 million in new money, and that could rise to $11 million if he hits all incentives, a source with access to the contract told The News. The deal includes a $3 million signing bonus.
Jackson turned 31 in February. He will get paid for two years an average salary about equal to that of the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw, who is the 15th highest-paid back in the league. Bradshaw got a four-year deal worth $4.5 million a year. He was age 25 when he signed it last August.
Entering his sixth season with the Bills, Jackson said he is determined to pick up where he left off last season. Jackson was second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage when he went down after 10 games with a broken fibula.
"I'll definitely continue to try and work hard and prove that I belong here because you have to prove that you belong here," Jackson said. "You can't settle for anything. I won't settle. I'll continue to keep working and hopefully continue to make plays for my team."
"He is a huge piece of the puzzle for us," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix. "It's a big day for the Bills. It's a big day for Fred Jackson and his family. We always said we want to try to keep our good players, and we've done it again today, with what we think is one of the best backs in the league."
Jackson has led the Bills in rushing three straight seasons. He produced 1,376 yards from scrimmage in 10 games last season, accounting for 40 percent of the Bills' offense. Jackson led all NFL running backs in yards per carry, at 5.49 yards an attempt. That was the best total by a Bills running back since O.J. Simpson averaged 5.52 a carry in 1975.
In 2010 he rushed for 927 yards and had 215 receiving yards. In 2009, he rushed for 1,062 yards and had 371 receiving yards.
"I've got to go out and continue to make plays," Jackson said. "That's what I'm here for. I'm here to make my teammates better. I'm here to prove to myself that this is where I belong. I'm looking forward to it. It'll be another challenge. I love challenges. I'm looking forward to getting out there and continuing to play well."
Jackson was joined at the news conference by his wife, Danielle, their three children, his mother-in-law, and his agent, Buffalo-based Ron Raccuia. Jackson's two young daughters were wearing Bills cheerleader outfits. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up, too, to offer congratulations.
"Very important," Fitzpatrick said of the signing. "I think everybody knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when. For him to be locked up here and to be here for more years to come is awesome. He obviously means a lot to our team. He means a lot to the city of Buffalo and the fans."
Jackson never was fully satisfied with his former contract and grew increasingly unhappy with it as his production increased. Jackson was an exclusive-rights free agent at the time he signed that deal, which meant he had little leverage in negotiations. The deal also was struck with the NFL staring at the prospect of a lockout in 2011 that could have wiped out a full season. Had that happened, Jackson still might not have been an unrestricted free agent coming out of the lockout. He felt pressured by the circumstances to strike a deal. About a year and a half ago, Jackson hired Raccuia as his new agent.
"This is a day to put that to rest," Jackson said. "Now it's just about going out and playing football. We don't have to worry about that anymore."