The more we learn about J.C. Jackson’s pending free agency, the less likely it seems he’ll be returning to New England for the 2022 season. A new report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport suggests that, at the very least, the 26-year-old All-Pro will have a chance to test the open market.
Appearing on NFL Network’s NFL Combine coverage Friday afternoon, Rapoport said the Patriots are “not expected” to use the franchise tag on Jackson. Using the tag, which would cost the team an estimated $17.2 million, would at least guarantee Jackson one more year in New England, while giving the Patriots a longer window to work out a long-term extension or trade.
Jackson is expected to have a ‘robust market‘ once he hits unrestricted free agency. PFF projects him to land a deal worth $18 million per year, although some experts have suggested his eventual deal could approach a $20 million AAV, which currently is the highest for a cornerback in the NFL (Jalen Ramsey).
That doesn't preclude the Patriots from bringing Jackson back once he hits the open market - they've let players test unrestricted free agency in the past. Just last year, captains David Andrews and James White remained unsigned days into the free agency period before ultimately re-signing in New England. However, the team's cap space (currently projected by cap expert Miguel Benzan at just under $5 million, with room to grow to $30-$40 million), could make winning a bidding war for Jackson's services unrealistic.
If Jackson does head elsewhere, cornerback - and particularly boundary cornerback - likely becomes the Patriots' biggest need of the offseason. The team's outside corners currently under contract are Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, and Justin Bethel while Shaun Wade plays both boundary and in the slot. Inside, the team is in better shape with veteran Jonathan Jones expected to return from a shoulder injury in time for training camp, with Myles Bryant and Wade offering depth.
Regarding Jackson's tag status, the Patriots do still have time to change their minds. The NFL franchise tag deadline in on Mar. 8, with Mar. 13 being the final day teams can exclusively discuss long-term contracts with their own pending free agents. Unrestricted free agency begins with the legal tampering period, which opens at noon ET on Mar. 14.
A look at the Patriots' pending free agents for 2022
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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.