Ever since his signing as an undrafted free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft, J.C. Jackson has been a vital piece of the New England Patriots‘ defense.
Jackson has been exemplary in his role with the Patriots, rising from the bottom of the roster type guy to the top cornerback on the team following the trade of Stephon Gilmore.
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While there were some criticisms in previous seasons of Jackson’s play whenever he had to operate as CB1, his play this year silenced many of the dialogue about him not being a shutdown corner as he made second-team all-pro in 2021, while usually covering the opposing team’s top receiver with Stephon Gilmore being injured to start the year before his eventual trade to the Panthers.
The Patriots have a very thin cornerback room as behind starters Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones only JoeJuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, and mainly special teamer Justin Bethel are the only Patriots CBs under contract for the 2022 season.
The Patriots need to do something to address the cornerback room this offseason, and the way they handle Jackson will likely be the first domino to fall in Bill Belichick’s approach to build the team in preparation for year two of Mac Jones.
Option #1: The Franchise Tag
The simplest short-term solution for the Patriots would be to franchise tag Jackson. Even though they currently have a projected $7.1 million in salary-cap space for 2022, between cuts and restructures the Patriots could easily clear up the space to bring back Jackson on the franchise tag which is expected to cost around $17.5 million for cornerbacks this offseason.
This would allow the Patriots to see Jackson for one more year before deciding whether they want to extend him long-term or let him test the waters in free agency.
Option #2: Long-Term Deal
Based on Jackson’s recent play and age of only 26, he would likely demand somewhere in the $18-20 million range for at least three seasons — an extremely risky venture for a player who has only had one full season as the top cornerback.
But with New England’s hole at cornerback, Belichick might commit to Jackson as one of the key pieces on the defense long-term as he tries to build a Super Bowl contender.
In order to make the money work, the Patriots would probably give Jackson a back-loaded deal in which he gets paid significantly more money in the later portion of his contract in order to give the Patriots some cap space for this offseason.
Option #3: Let Him Test Free Agency
While if the Patriots truly want Jackson is back for 2022 but do not think both parties can reach a long-term deal, they likely will just franchise tag him, though there is the possibility that they leave Jackson to the open market. Immediately, Jackson would become one of the most sought-after free-agent cornerbacks and would likely sign a monster deal with another team, netting the Patriots a compensatory third-round pick in the 2023 draft.
There also is the possibility that Jackson explores the market and either does not like any of his offers or teams are not offering what he thought would be the price for a player of his caliber, and he ends up signing with the Patriots anyway.
Option #4: Tag and Trade
Although this option has not materialized lately in the NFL with cornerbacks, franchise tagging and trading players who then sign a long-term deal with their new team has become a fairly common practice in the NFL.
If the Patriots do not feel like they need Jackson and are able to find a trade partner willing to give up more than a 2023 3rd round pick that they would receive if he simply left in free agency, then this would be a no brainer.
The Patriots would franchise tag Jackson and then immediately trade him to another team that would then sign him to a long-term deal, making all sides happy.