The New England Patriots‘ order of business when it comes to prioritizing free agents hasn’t always resonated with fans.
In Bill Belichick’s eyes, the longtime personnel decision-maker tries to get the absolute maximum out of his players during their rookie contract before letting them hit the open market just as their value skyrockets.
It’s an innovative strategy in terms of ensuring the Patriots don’t have any overpriced contracts on the payroll, but that doesn’t really hold any weight after Belichick overpaid for Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor last offseason.
When it comes to this offseason, though, it feels like it’ll be judged depending on what Belichick does with JC Jackson.
A free agent to be, Jackson has been speculated as a candidate for the franchise tag. However, NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported from the Combine over the weekend that New England plans to let Jackson test the open market. And that came to fruition on Tuesday when the Patriots opted not to tag Jackson prior to the 4 p.m. deadline.
Will the Patriots regret letting JC Jackson test the free agent market?
It sounds like Patriots fans’ worst fears are about to become a reality. After trading Stephon Gilmore mid-season, New England isn’t really in a position to risk Jackson negotiating, let alone signing, with other teams.
If Jackson signs elsewhere (though he could still work out a deal to remain in Foxborough), that would leave the Patriots with Jonathan Jones, who primarily lines up in the slot, Jalen Mills, and the unseasoned Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade as the only cornerbacks under contract for next season.
We saw when Jones was lost for the season with a shoulder injury that the Pats’ secondary struggled to fill the void. Could you imagine how the group would look without Jackson, who added eight more interceptions to his resume, allowed a 47.8 passer rating, and finished first in the NFL with 23 passes defended in 2021?
What kind of message would that send to the locker room? We understand money is the bottom line, but cornerback has become a premier position over the years, right behind quarterback, pass rusher and left tackle in level of importance.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about a ballhawk corner, which are few and far between in today’s NFL, who can wipe out one side of the field. He’d be the missing piece for several teams that are knocking on the door of a championship (Chiefs, Bengals, 49ers, etc.), so he’ll have no shortage of offers.
The Patriots, on the other hand, despite their cap issues, are operating with a starting quarterback on a rookie contract. Letting Jackson test free agency would fly in the face of all the advantages of hitting on a QB in the draft.
We don’t want to act like we know better than Belichick, but there’s a reason everyone in the industry is questioning this potential decision.