4 Best Destinations for JC Jackson
The timing couldn’t have been better for cornerback JC Jackson. Or, perhaps, the timing couldn’t be worse.
The New England Patriots have one of the biggest decisions to make as the NFL races toward the start of free agency in mid-March.
What the team decides to do about their Pro Bowl cornerback, whether it’s franchise tag Jackson, sign him to a long-term contract, or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent, will have huge ramifications for the entire league, as Jackson is unquestionably the best cornerback on the market this free agency season.
Here are the four most likely destinations for Jackson on March 16:
4. The Patriots could end all speculation by placing the franchise tag on Jackson
It’s looking increasingly likely that the Patriots will apply the franchise tag to Jackson at around $17.5 million for 2022 to at least ensure they get one more season of the first Pro Bowler in 2021. And that buys the Patriots another year to increase their financial flexibility and finesse a long-term deal that makes sense for them under the salary cap. They have already extended the safety of Adrian Phillips and are at risk of losing Devin McCourty in free agency. Keeping Jackson is almost certainly Plan A in Foxboro.
But with Jackson likely to command something in the neighborhood of Jalen Ramsey’s $20 million a year open-market salary, would franchising it only serve to alienate Jackson, guaranteeing his departure after 2022? And Bill Belichick has made the difficult decision not to retain potential free agents of Jackson’s caliber in the past. The whole league is watching what’s going on here.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
The gap between Jackson and the rest of the free agent field is quite wide, so if the Patriots let him into the market, teams with the cap room for him will go after Jackson quite aggressively. The Los Angeles Chargers, playing in the same division with Patrick Mahomes, and if you believe the rumors, potentially Aaron Rodgers, would definitely be in the market for back-end help.
The Chargers not only have the cap space to do the kind of five-year, $100 million deal Jackson will be looking for, they have the urgent need, with Chris Harris Jr. also a free agent and unlikely to return. . It’s a void the Chargers will want to fill, especially after a season where they struggled in the secondary. Jackson would anchor this unit and give Joey Bosa and his defensive line time to do more damage.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are another team that was shaky at fullback in 2021 and is set to lose a critical piece with Joe Haden becoming a free agent. Pairing Jackson with Minkah Fitzpatrick in the defensive backfield would cure a lot of the Steelers’ ills, and similar to the Chargers, having an improved secondary only improves TJ Watt’s ability and the defensive line to get past the quarterback.
If the Steelers decide not to make a splash at quarterback to replace Ben Roethlisberger, they’ll likely look to take over the defense and let running back Najee Harris be the center point of offense. Matching a top offense with a top defense has won championships in Pittsburgh before. Landing Jackson could point them in that direction again in 2022.
1. New York Jets
Wouldn’t that be a delightful development in the AFC East? The Jets probably haven’t forgotten when the Patriots took Darrelle Revis away from them in 2014 and would love the chance to shift the balance of power in the division with a huge splash of free agent.
Needless to say, the Jets could use the secondary assist, just like they could use the assist just about anywhere. But when your head coach is a former defensive coordinator, you know Robert Saleh would love to add the best cornerback on the market to his developing squad, especially with offensive firepower at the top of the division.
What if he was able to hurt the Patriots in the process and grab the back page spotlight in New York? It’s a win-win for the Jets that will be hard to resist.
Statistics courtesy of Professional Football Reference
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