ORCHARD PARK — Buddy Nix told the truth ... and even though Freddie Jackson got slapped with a bit of NFL reality in the process, his patience was rewarded.
For awhile, it seemed that Jackson, the Bills chronologically-aged but physically-youthful running back was one of pro football’s most unlucky players.
Ten games into what could well have been an NFL MVP season, he broke his right leg in a game at Miami.
Bad enough that a campaign in which he might have led the league in both rushing and yards from scrimmage (including receiving) ended prematurely, but even more punitive was the potential damage to Jackson’s contract situation.
He was in the third of a four-year, $7.5 million contract — about $1.8 million per season — puny numbers for a player so productive.
The plan was, after what loomed as a career season, Jackson would get a generous extension bringing his salary more in line with his production.
Then came the injury last November.
WHILE the media persistently questioned Nix when the extension would be forthcoming, Buffalo’s third-year GM patiently reminded the press that the former Division III star at Coe College was under contract for another year and while he would be rewarded, there were more pressing issues such as free agency and the draft.
And Jackson played the good soldier even after coach Chan Gailey announced the plan was for “Fred-Ex,” as he’s called, and former first-round draft choice C.J. Spiller to share carries, a decided change from last season when both were healthy and the former was the workhorse.
Still, when he was in Olean last month at East View Elementary School as part of a Bills’ appearance for the NFL’s Play 60 program, Jackson reiterated Nix’s position and expressed confidence the deal would get done well before training camp.
And that’s exactly what happened as, on Monday afternoon, a two-year extension was announced.
According to sources, the added seasons could total $9 million if the incentives are met, making the next three years worth nearly $11 million total, or nearly $3.7 per.
DURING yesterday’s press conference at the Bills’ fieldhouse, Nix was quick to point out, “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.”
To which Jackson added, “I always said that I wanted to be here. It’s just a happy day.
“I get the opportunity to be here for another three years. We’re doing some tremendous things here ... we can get a lot accomplished in three years and I definitely want to be a part of that.”
And the players aren’t immune to the excitement generated by the Bills’ signing of free agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the extension of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, plus what appears to be a solid draft.
AS JACKSON noted, “Buddy and those guys have done a tremendous job in the offseason putting together some pieces for us to keep guys around .. building a nucleus. This is probably the most exciting year I’m looking forward to just because of some of the moves we’ve made. There’s a lot of optimism in some of the things that we’ve done.
“They’re doing a great job in the front office getting us the pieces that we felt like we needed. To kind of take that next step it’s exciting. I’m excited to be a part of it (and) sign the extension to stay here because I feel like something special is about to go down and I want to be a part of it.”
But there’s also the stigma of last year’s injury and the question of whether, at age 31, he’s back to optimum health.
“(Last season) ended the way we didn’t want it to,” he said. “I’ve still got to go out and show that it wasn’t just last year and that it wasn’t a one year thing for me.
“I’ll definitely be motivated ... I’m here to prove to myself that this is where I belong.”
OF COURSE, Jackson’s place in the lockerroom has always been secure.
Former coach Marv Levy said a player couldn’t be a leader unless he produced on the field ... something that Jackson has always done. But he’s also one of the most respected Bills because of his small-college background and professional stops in the United Indoor Football League and NFL Europe.
As Nix noted, “Where Fred came from and to do what he’s done, the respect of the other players is natural. He’s handled it well and he was a huge piece of the puzzle for us.”
Which is why Jackson so desperately wanted to stay with the Bills.
“This is definitely a day I’m going to celebrate and a day I’ll remember,” he said. “Where else would you rather be than Buffalo is how I looked at it.
“We have a tremendous fan base and I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else. For me to still be here was huge ... I want to go out and play for them.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)