Just over two hours before the RFA deadline on Wednesday, the Patriots placed a second round tender on cornerback J.C. Jackson, as first reported by Ian Rapoport. Placing the tender on Jackson, which was expected, prevents him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
So, what does all that mean?
NFL players become eligible for restricted free agency if they have played three or fewer accrued seasons when their contract expires. Jackson’s rookie deal, which he signed as a UDFA in 2018, was set to end with the new league year on Wednesday.
However, qualifying players don’t automatically become restricted free agents. For that to happen, the team has to place one of the four RFA tenders on that player before the contract officially lapses. The options are a first round tender, second round tender, original round tender, and right of first refusal tender.
Each tender, once placed on a pending free agent, essentially represents a one-year contract worth a predetermined value. In 2021, the values for each tender are:
- First round: $4.766 million
- Second round: $3.384 million
- Original round: $2.183 million
- Right of first refusal: $2.133 million
Once tendered, the player has a chance to test the open market. When/if that player agrees to a contract with a new team, the original team will have a chance to match the deal and keep the player at that price. If they chose not to match, the new team sends the original team a draft pick for the upcoming draft that corresponds to the tender (except for the ‘right of first refusal tender).
The original team can also negotiate a new, long-term deal with the player after tendering him. If no deal is reached with any team by April 23, the player plays the season under a one-year contract at the value of the tender.
By placing a second round tender on Jackson, the Patriots guarantee that at the very least, they’ll have him back in 2021 for short money. If a team signs Jackson to an offer sheet, the Patriots will have a chance to match, or receive that team’s second-round pick in the 2021 draft.
Why not tender him at the first round level? It’s a fair question without a direct answer. A simple explanation would be cap space – the team saves about $1.5 million with the second round designation.
The more complex reasoning some have speculated is that the Patriots may already be planning to move on from Jackson, and hope to recoup a pick from his new team. Perhaps a first round tender may have kept teams away from negotiation with him, while losing a second round pick would be seen as more manageable.
Managing a young cornerback in restricted free agency isn’t anything new for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The team tendered Malcolm Butler at the first round level in 2017, which at the time was worth $3,91 million. He ended up playing under that contract, and left in free agency the next year.
MORE: Patriots Free Agency Tracker
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.