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J.C. Jackson’s Getting the Bag this Offseason, but Could it Come from the Patriots?

J.C. Jackson is headed towards a financially beneficial offseason. But no one should assume his future won’t be in New England.

Troy Apke by Alexander Jones is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

J.C. Jackson’s Getting the Bag this Offseason, but Could it Come from the Patriots?

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

J.C. Jackson leads the NFL in passes defended (16) and is second in the league in interceptions (7). According to Pro Football Focus, he has the 10th best grade for cornerbacks this season. He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November. Jackson’s team, the New England Patriots, are also in first place in the AFC East.

Pro Football Focus Grades for All Cornerbacks

PlayerPFF Grade thru Week 12Contract Status
Rashad Fenton86.8Signed through ‘22
Jalen Ramsey84.6Signed through ‘25
A.J. Terrell84.5Signed through ‘23
Darius Slay81.4Signed through ‘23
Denzel Ward80.2Signed through ‘22
Nate Hobbs77.3Signed through ‘24
Avonte Maddox77.1Signed through ‘24
Jamel Dean77.1Signed through ‘22
Tavierre Thomas76.3Signed through ‘23
J.C. Jackson76.2Signed through ‘21

This has been a great season through 12 games, and most importantly for Jackson it’s coming right before he becomes a free agent.

In a league where passing is king, a player viewed as one of the best available pass defenders is always going to see a healthy market. What’s even better for Jackson is he is heading towards being the clear top free agent cornerback this offseason.

Pro Football Focus Grades for Upcoming Free Agent Cornerbacks

PlayerPFF Grade thru Week 12
J.C. Jackson76.2
Robert Alford74.6
Carlton Davis73.9
Mike Hughes73.6
Casey Hayward Jr.73.1

Jackson is outperforming these other cornerbacks in the 2021 season, but there are other reasons he’ll likely be the most sought-after free agent among this group. Alford and Hayward Jr. are both in their mid-30’s, while Jackson is going to be 26 years-old in Week 1 of the 2022 season. Hughes has a higher pedigree by being a former first-round pick, but Jackson’s career stats heavily outshine Hughes’.

Davis is likely the most similar here as he’ll be 25 years-old next season, won a Super Bowl last season and has 46 career passes defended (same as Jackson). The main difference is career interceptions as Jackson has four times as many (24) compared to Davis (6).

With Jackson’s financial future looking so bright the natural assumption is he will be wearing a new uniform next season despite what Jackson has said so far. In the 20+ years Bill Belichick has run the New England Patriots they have been viewed as, let’s say, “value spenders”. They splurged big time this offseason but that’s likely to be an outlier and the expectation is the big money deals coming out of Foxborough will go back to being few and far between.

Is it a certainty the Pats will let a player like Jackson walk out the door? Belichick and the Patriots’ history with similar players would say not so fast.

Jackson had nine interceptions in 11 starts last season. Typically, this performance would be good enough to make the Pro Bowl, but Jackson was snubbed. His stats this season make his selection nearly certain so for this exercise we’re going to consider Jackson a Pro Bowl player.

Since Bill Belichick came to the Patriots in 2000 there have been 16 players elected to a Pro Bowl during their rookie contract. Ten received a second contract, while six were let go. Looking at these players’ experiences could help predict the Patriots’ approach with Jackson.

The Players Who Were Kept

  • Tom Brady – Signed a five-year extension before last year of contract
  • Richard Seymour – Signed a three-year extension before last year of contract
  • Logan Mankins – Franchise tagged then signed a six-year deal
  • Vince Wilfork – Franchise tagged then signed a five-year deal
  • Stephen Gostowski – Received the RFA tender, then signed a four-year extension
  • Jerod Mayo – Signed a five-year extension before last year of contract
  • Matthew Slater – Entered Free Agency and signed a three-year deal
  • Rob Gronkowski – Signed a six-year extension with two seasons left on contract
  • Devin McCourty – Entered Free Agency and signed a five-year deal
  • Dont’a Hightower – Entered Free Agency and signed a four-year deal

We can throw out the comparison to the three future-hall of famers in Brady, Gronkowski, and Seymour. Jackson is good, but he’s not that good.

The special teamers (Gostowski and Slater) can also be crossed off since their value and market is minimized vs. a starting cornerback.

This leaves Mankins, Wilfork, Mayo, McCourty, and Hightower. Mayo signed an extension before the end of his deal, but he had the pedigree of being a top 10 first-round pick. He also was said to be one of Belichick’s favorite players, which is likely confirmed by Mayo currently being the co-defensive coordinator of the Patriots.

McCourty and Hightower were both key leaders of Patriots defense that won Super Bowls. New England correctly played the market where they knew they could offer competing deals to the rest of the league and retain both players.

With J.C. Jackson, competing deals might be the highest deals for a cornerback in recent memory.

This leaves the Mankins/Wilfork game-plan, which was to Franchise tag the player in the beginning of the offseason and then work out a long-term deal before Week 1. New England also saw these players’ best days were ahead of them as both would also make All-Pro later in their careers.

Moving on to the group who spent more limited time in Foxborough.

The Players Who Were Let Go

  • Damien Woody – Left as a Free Agent to sign with Detroit
  • Asante Samuel – Played a season under Franchise Tag, then left as a Free Agent to sign with Philadelphia
  • Chandler Jones – Traded to Arizona before last year of contract
  • Jamie Collins – Traded to Cleveland during the last year of contract
  • Malcolm Butler – Left as a Free Agent to sign with Tennessee

Woody was a solid Patriot, but he also was drafted before Belichick took over. Plus, the team had the offensive line depth for Woody’s departure to be minimally felt.

Jones and Collins were both looking for the heavy payday that pass rushers get from everyone in the NFL not based in Massachusetts.

Butler had one of the more notorious final games as a Patriot. His failure to re-sign with the team was not that shocking, especially since New England had signed Stephon Gilmore the prior offseason.

Which is related to the final player from this list, Asante Samuel. Letting Samuel go was one of the bigger personnel mistakes Belichick has made in New England. Samuel had 20 interceptions and made the pro bowl every year in his first three seasons in Philadelphia.

What made this worse was the Patriots had no real backup plan for a #1 cornerback. Instead, they tried a string of former Pro Bowlers on the back end of their career in Deltha O’Neal (2008) and Shawn Springs (2009).

The following season saw rookie Devin McCourty as the top corner, but he would struggle in his next two seasons and move to safety. This pushed the Patriots to trade for Aqib Talib.

This would start a decade of the Patriots always having a top cornerback who provided at least the same level of play that Samuel gave in 2007. This transition went from Talib to Darrelle Revis to Malcolm Butler to Stephon Gilmore to…

J.C. Jackson.

The Turf’s Prediction

Jackson’s situation seems the closest to what happened with Mankins/Wilfork/Samuel. The reason it likely should end in a new deal with the Patriots like Mankins/Wilfork is because of the lesson New England learned by letting Samuel go.

The Patriots know they need a top cornerback and they have one in-house who can be successful in their scheme. The predicted outcome is franchising Jackson in 2022 and he plays the season under the tag. Then New England franchises Jackson again at the beginning of the 2023 offseason before working out a long-term deal.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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