As JC Jackson heads into free agency, what’s next for the Patriots at cornerback? – New England Patriots Blog
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tuesday’s deadline for awarding the franchise tag back and forth with the New England Patriots passing up the opportunity to use it on cornerback JC Jackson, whose 25 interceptions are at tied with Lester Hayes and Everson Walls for the most by a player in his first four NFL seasons since 1970.
The tag would have been $17.3 million for 2022, and while the possibility was obviously considered to some degree, it never seemed like a realistic option.
That sets the stage for Jackson to experience unrestricted free agency starting Monday. That’s when his agent, Neil Schwartz, can start negotiating with other clubs, and Jackson should cash in.
He earned the chance to do so. Entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2018, he earned a total of $5.1 million. Now, a new contract worth an average of $15-20 million per season could be within reach. And as Patriots fans have learned, Jackson isn’t passing up too many of those opportunities.
Thus, the Patriots should be ready to lose their promising ball, which raises several questions:
Why not use the franchise label? You could say the simple answer is that coach Bill Belichick doesn’t consider Jackson a $17.3 million a year player. And if another team makes, or even exceeds, that number, that’s free agency’s business.
The Patriots have $13.7 million in cap space, according to Roster Management. So if they had given Jackson the franchise tag, they should have been ready to create some space by March 16, the official start of the 2022 league year.
Doable, but not ideal – especially if they don’t see it as such a high salary, which seems to be closer to the heart of the matter.
How did we get here ? The Patriots tried to sign Jackson for an extension in the 2021 season, but as Belichick sometimes says, it takes two parties to get a deal done.
Jackson described the situation in a February interview with NBC Sports Boston, saying, “Everything was positive. I wanted to focus on the ball back then. I wanted to end the season the right way. I’m not really come back to them on it.”
Jackson basically bet on himself to come to the end of the season healthy and test the open market. If he had suffered a serious injury during the season, he might have regretted this decision.
That’s often the risk-reward scenario for players, and Jackson — as he’s known to do on the court — has positioned himself well to maximize his payouts.
And, of course, the Patriots could have sweetened their offer during the season to possibly tempt Jackson to change his mind.
Is the door closed when Jackson returns? Not necessarily, but it seems like the trend is. The financial parameters are in place.
The Patriots’ reluctance to tag Jackson helps clarify the financial level they’re willing to stretch to retain him. So the question becomes: is there an open-market deal worth $17.3 million per season or more?
Some in the NFL scouting/agent community see this as a probability, which is why the odds are higher that Jackson will play elsewhere in 2022. But if the deal doesn’t materialize for Jackson, it wouldn’t be the first time a top free agent explored other options and eventually re-signed with the team.
What other corners are available in free agency? Finding a No. 1 corner will be expensive, and it could be argued that if the Patriots are considering that, they might as well stretch to bring Jackson back.
But other cornerbacks are expected to hit the market, including old friend Stephon Gilmore (hard to imagine his return), Carlton Davis (Buccaneers), Donte Jackson (Panthers), DJ Reed (Seahawks), Charvarius Ward (Chiefs) and Darious Williams (Rams), among others.
What draft options might help? That’s where ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid comes in. Knowing what the Patriots value in cornering, he was asked to identify some prospects who might fit their profile, with a nugget of analysis on why.
Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson) — Booth Jr. is an exceptional athlete with an extremely competitive drive. A real corner of a man, he is a loose mover who also does not hesitate to come forward in support of the race. Before the combine, he stretched out his quad. As a result, he was only able to do interviews. All eyes will be on him on Clemson’s pro day on March 17. Draft range: No. 15 to 25 picks
Kaiir Elam (Florida) – The nephew of former Ravens first-round guard Matt Elam, Kaiir is a big, physical corner (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) who likes to get his hands on wide receivers. Possessing adequate quickness in the short areas, he was somewhat of the forgotten man in a deep cornerback class, but that was quickly over after running a 4.39 time in the 40 scorecard yards at the NFL scouting combine. Draft range: picks n° 21 to 32
Derion Kendrick (Georgia) — After having a great start to his career at Clemson, he was fired from the team after disciplinary issues led him to land in Georgia. Since arriving in Athens, he has been on the rise, with his intelligence, patience and tackler physique his three best attributes. If he is able to forget his past, he has the talent to eventually become a reliable No. 2 corner. Draft range: third round
Josh Jobe (Alabama) – The only veteran in the Tide cornerback room last season, Jobe is a burly player who is a tyrant at the line of scrimmage. Experimenting with both safety and cornering, he is a sure tackler who has also featured prominently on special teams. After foot surgery (Dec 2021), which kept him out of the college football playoffs, and being an older prospect (24), he’s likely a late-round pick who could become the an early contributor to special teams and depth play at the corner. Draft Range: fifth-sixth round
If the Patriots don’t draft a corner, what do they have on the roster?: Veteran Jalen Mills, the starter opposite Jackson, returns in 2022. Although he may better project himself into a corner/safety hybrid role playing in midfield – which is where the Eagles had moved him to 2020 – he was competitive for the Patriots away in 21.
Veteran Jonathan Jones, whose 2021 season was cut short after six games due to shoulder surgery, is back as the first slot option, with sophomore Myles Bryant as his understudy. And the Patriots are still hoping for the trade acquisition of Shaun Wade, the 2021 rookie from Ohio State they acquired from the Ravens for fifth- and seventh-round picks last September.
Wade’s 6-foot-1, 191-pound figures will have a long look in the spring after being limited to a small role in three games last season, in part due to COVID-19, injuries and learning to play. a new playbook. The ideal scenario for the Patriots would be to see an increase in Wade’s confidence and availability. He looks the part, but can he play the part?
It’s a similar question that was previously posed to 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams, who remains on the roster but hasn’t always shown he’s projecting as part of the solution, with the playoff loss against the Buffalo Bills — when he was badly battered for a touchdown — a tough final impression to leave heading into the offseason.