Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were very active last offseason, as they underwent a free agency splurge that helped them blitz through the AFC East and make it to the playoffs. This free agency could be equally pivotal, as they risk losing JC Jackson to the open market.
On merit alone, Jackson should be paid like an elite cornerback, as he has risen from undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler on the back of 25 interceptions in four seasons and a whopping 17 in the past two. However, Belichick is known for not paying individual players boatloads of cash.
While Belichick could hold his ground and refuse to give Jackson the deal he deserves, doing so would rob a strong defense of arguably their most impactful individual player. One NFL insider thinks that Jackson, who has already spoken out against New England’s handling of his situation, will return to the Patriots in 2022.
Michael Lombardi believes that the Patriots will simply hit Jackson with the franchise tag in an attempt to bring him back for 2022 and delay any sort of prolonged fight over a contract. While that might not please Jackson, it may be one of the only recuses New England has left.
Will the New England Patriots retain JC Jackson?
While this draft is full of intriguing cornerback prospects, the odds of a rookie coming into New England and playing at the same level Jackson has been at over the course of his career would be extremely small. Knowing this, the tag might be New England’s safest bet in terms of retaining him.
The Patriots have used the franchise tag five times since 2010, but they were only able to retain three out of the five tags. Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Gostkowski signed long-term deals after being tagged, but Wes Welker and Joe Thuney would eventually leave for the Broncos and Chiefs, respectively.
That doesn’t espouse a ton of optimism that the two sides will get a deal done.
However, the Patriots have managed to keep players like Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty around for years. Belichick knows a defensive linchpin when he sees one, and that alone might be enough to help the two sides eventually come together to strike a deal.
Jackson’s ball skills are not only exceedingly rare, but they could make him arguably the best individual turnover-creating cornerback in the game today. Belichick would find it hard to sell fans on replacing an elite player with an unproven rookie or cheaper free agent, so a deal must come to fruition soon.