By JASON L. YOUNG
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Running back Steven Jackson will have the option to explore free agency after the season, raising the question of whether Sunday's finale at Seattle will be his final game in a St. Louis Rams uniform.
Jackson intimated Thursday that he might retire at the end of this season. Though he laughed as he said it, the 29-year-old running back didn't retreat from the idea when asked how serious he was about the possibility
"If I have to write my story," Jackson said Thursday, "I'd rather go out like Barry Sanders and leaving people to want more than to leave too late."
So, how many more seasons does that mean are left for Jackson?
"Maybe this last one," he said laughing. "Those hits hurt."
Jackson negotiated earlier this year for the chance to opt out of his current contract at the end of this season with one year left on the deal. The nine-year veteran has expressed interest in ending his career with the only team he's played for in the NFL, but hasn't publicly committed to returning.
Coach Jeff Fisher said the team wants him back, but if Jackson asks for too many years or too much money he might price himself out of a Rams uniform. The only thing for certain following the season finale at Seattle on Sunday is that the team's active leader in rushing yards has the biggest decision of his career to make. Fisher said the team's made its decision.
"I think everybody in the building would like to have him back," Fisher said. "It's just a matter of us sitting down and working things out."
Jackson posted in his locker a list of the NFL's top 10 all-time rushing leaders and the three backs with at least 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. He stands at 10,083 yards and needs 2,196 yards to equal Marshall Faulk, who Jackson replaced with the Rams, to get into the top 10.
Jackson also has 3,279 career receiving yards, though his 31 receptions and 276 yards this year are his lowest for a season not interrupted by a lengthy injury since he had 14 and 189 as a rookie in 2004.
He insists that he has neither thought about his future in terms of whether to return to St. Louis or climbing the all-time charts. He said his only considers this week possibly being his last with the Rams when asked.
"The only emotion I'm thinking about is going undefeated (in divisional play) and secondly my first possible winning season," said Jackson, who needs 10 rushing yards for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. "Those are the only two things I'm thinking about and those are team things, so that's what's most important."
St. Louis hasn't had a winning season since 2003, the year before Jackson arrived. It has twice finished with 8-8 records, most recently in 2006, before going 15-65 the past five years.
Playing with one of the youngest rosters in the league this season, the Rams are 7-7-1 and 4-0-1 in NFC West play. They also have two first-round draft choices next year, along with several extra picks garnered through trades and there is general optimism at the headquarters for the first time in years.
"I've come to understand in this league that it's truly year to year," he said. "What coach Fisher has brought to this organization, the credibility, that going on in the future I definitely see a very bright future for this organization. Why wouldn't I want to be a part of that?"
How he answers his own question won't come until after Sunday and when, in Jackson's mind, the timing is right during the offseason to consider his future.
"I'll allow myself that time to sit back and reflect and think about things I've accomplished in my career and what I've done this season," he said. "And think about how much longer I want to play this game, as well. There's going to be a small window of opportunity and I want to make sure I take full advantage of it."
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