It wouldn't be a proper Patriots season if there weren't season-long drama around coaches or players, right? At least, that's what it's felt like in recent years, or you could even argue for decades.
That's putting it mildly when talking about the dramatic return and tenure of J.C. Jackson over the last several weeks, who was acquired via trade after a failed stint with the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this season.
He was a much-needed addition after Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones went down with season-ending injuries, leaving the cornerback room depleted and in desperate need of trusted performers. It felt like a fateful reunion after Jackson chose to sign elsewhere in free agency in 2022, despite the Patriots offering a similar contract to the Chargers and the cornerback not appearing like the best fit for the defensive scheme they had out west.
That ultimately led to his exit after dealing with injuries that kept him sidelined and poor performances that got him benched. He never seemed like a fit for the Chargers but was fortunate in getting quite a hefty paycheck as a result.
Jackson was welcomed back to New England, and looked like his typical self in his first showings on the field. But it didn't take long for something to feel off, and he actually became one of the weaker players in the secondary, leading to his benching against the Commanders just a few weeks ago.
Things between him and the team seemingly worsened as it was reported the cornerback would not be flying to Frankfurt for the Patriots game against the Colts, a presumed punishment for what was rumored to be performance related.
Since they returned from Germany and enjoyed their bye week, a lot of questions about Jackson's upcoming status were being asked by reporters this week, with Jackson addressing the rumors on Tuesday. He acknowledged his wrongdoings and admitted to the punishment being warranted for his behavior.
"What happened was I didn’t travel with the team to Germany. It was a punishment on my behalf and that’s what it was. I didn’t take it any other way than, this is punishment and I hope you learn from it and grow from this mistake I made.
And I’m here now, so hopefully that won’t happen again. It was all my fault. I made a mistake. That’s what you’re going to get from Bill (Belichick). That’s one thing about him. He’s going to discipline no matter who you are."
But what exactly led to all of this?
Besides the alleged performance issues that had been discussed as a possible reason, rumors circulated suggesting Jackson had been late or not shown up to the team hotel prior to the Commanders game, leading to him being benched in the game and being told to stay home for the Patriots Week 10 matchup.
"I was kind of late to bed check. They checked my room. I wasn’t there at the time. That’s what it was. It was nothing major. I wasn’t out that night doing anything stupid. It was just I wasn’t where I was supposed to be on time. Little mistakes, man. I’m a professional I know better than that. I’ve been around. I’ve never missed a bed check. Things happen. If I knew what that was going to cause, I would have never done it."
During his previous time with the team from 2018-2021, Jackson never had any off-the-field issues. He was never reported to have been late, punished for non-game day actions, etc., which made the recent events seem even more shocking to those who have followed his NFL career.
When discussing all the events that brought him to this point, Jackson shared he's been dealing with struggles in his life like anybody else and said the way things ended with the Chargers really took a toll on his mental health.
Considering the high he was on after the 2021 season, having the best season of his career, and entering free agency as one of the most sought-after cornerbacks available, it was a big fall from grace in a matter of just a year and a half. It would be a lot for anyone to try and navigate, especially a young football player.
But Jackson said it's all given him some perspective, and being held out of the game in Germany has renewed his outlook of the future, revealing he hopes to remain a Patriot for the rest of his career.
"Reality check – I’m not bigger than the team. I’m not bigger than nobody in here. This is a team sport and I have to do whatever everybody else is doing. I want to be a part of the team. This is my team. This is home for me, man. This is where I want to be. I don’t want to go nowhere else. I want to finish my career here also. I’ve just got to continue to build that leadership each and every day. It just stinks for me – I kind of played a lot of football. I know what to do at this point."
He doubled down on his desire to never leave New England, expressing appreciation for Bill Belichick and his coaching and belief in him, all of which culminates in him being a great fit for the team.
"That’s what I feel – this is where I belong. A lot of people come here and can’t handle Bill. He finds those guys like me. Not that he makes you, but he finds those guys and I’m one of those guys he found – undrafted came in, bought into the program, and got paid. It’s him. He’s a part of it. I don’t want to play for nobody else."
How Belichick feels about Jackson's return and future is yet to be seen, but it appears the cornerback is in a good head space and ready to get back to work. Hopefully, that will translate into good performances come game day, like the ones we grew accustomed to when he was formerly on the team, allowing him to remain a Patriot for a long time.