New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

  • Determining J.C. Jackson’s future is arguably the biggest decision the Patriots will make before the new league year begins in March. The 26-year-old cornerback has emerged as one of the best players in the league at his position, and is looking to be paid accordingly as he heads for unrestricted free agency for the first time.

    Having Jackson walk and getting nothing in return would be a major blow to the Patriots’ offseason plan. Outside cornerback is one of the teams biggest needs even with Jackson in the picture. His departure would leave them needing to bring in two starting-caliber players at a notoriously difficult position to add talent.

    The good news for the Patriots is they have the franchise tag at their disposal, which could be used to keep Jackson in the building no matter what. Once tagging Jackson – which will cost an estimated $17.3 million against the salary cap – the Patriots would be able to continue to negotiate a long-term deal, have him play the one year under the tag, or trade him.

    Using the franchise tag isn’t something Bill Belichick has shied away from in his time with the Patriots. The Patriots have tagged 10 players since 2000, with teams averaging just over five uses of the tag in that span. Of those 10 players Belichick has tagged, four went on to sign multi-year deals after being tagged, four played the season under the tag then left in free agency, and two were traded.

    Let’s take a closer look at this history, and see if it will tell us anything about what’s in store for Jackson…

  • K Adam Vinatieri, 2002

    Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots celebrates winning Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17 against the St. Louis Rams at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots celebrates winning Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17 against the St. Louis Rams at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Belichick first used the franchise tag in his third offseason with the Patriots on Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri. It took just 21 days for the sides to agree on a three-year deal that at the time made Vinatieri the highest-paid kicker in the league.

  • S Tebucky Jones, 2003

    27 Jan 2002: Tebucky Jones #34 of the New England Patriots maneuvers against Alan Faneca #66 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Patriots won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Belichick executed his first ‘tag and trade’ in 2003 with Jones, who was a key member of the Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning defense just two years prior. In return for the 28-year-old, the Patriots got third, fourth, and seventh-round picks which through further trades turned into linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, safety Dexter Reid, and running back Corey Dillon. Jones would go on to play three more seasons in the NFL, two with the Saints and one with the Miami Dolphins.

  • K Adam Vinatieri, 2005

    Nov 10, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) kicks a field goal against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Vinatieri is the only player to be tagged twice by the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. This time, he played out the season under the tag before leaving in free agency the next year.

  • CB Asante Samuel, 2007

    FOXBORO, MA – NOVEMBER 26: Asante Samuel #22 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass intended for Rashied Davis #81 of the Chicago Bears on November 26, 2006 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Chicago Bears 17-13. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Samuel is the only cornerback to get the franchise tag from Bill Belichick so far, which isn’t surprising given the cornerback tag is one of the most expensive (it was the fourth-highest tag last season behind quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive end). Like Jackson, Samuel was 26 years old at this point and coming off his rookie contract. After holding out for most of the preseason, Samuel put together an All-Pro year in 2007 before signing with the Eagles the next spring.

  • QB Matt Cassel, 2009

    INDIANAPOLIS – NOVEMBER 02: Matt Cassel #16 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 2, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    If we’re using the Patriots’ history with the franchise tag to project Jackson’s future, Cassel is probably the outlier. There was all the motivation for the team to move him, and very little to bring him back. He’d proven himself a starter-caliber player in 2008 but Tom Brady was set to return from his torn ACL. Traded along with Mike Vrabel, Cassel netted the Patriots a second-round pick which the team used to select Patrick Chung.

  • DT Vince Wilfork, 2010

    FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 14: Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots reacts after he sacked Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos in the second half during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

    The most recent example of a cornerstone defensive player getting the tag from the Patriots, Wilfork threatened to hold out if the team tagged him during the 2010 offseason. They’d go on to do just that, but only 11 days later agreed on a new five-year, $40 million deal. Wilfork was named an All-Pro each of the next three seasons.

  • G Logan Mankins, 2011

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 20: Logan Mankins #70 of the New England Patriots against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium on September 20, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

    Mankins’ situation was a little more complicated, as it occurred during the 2011 NFL lockout. The 29-year-old didn’t get his new six-year deal – which made him the highest-paid guard in football – until mid-August. He played up to that contract for three more years in New England before being traded to Tampa in August of 2014.

  • WR Wes Welker, 2012

    FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 10: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball off of a punt against the Houston Texans during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 10, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

    Welker was the fourth player tagged by the Patriots in a four-year stretch, Belichick’s longest consecutive use of the tag. The 31-year-old has one of his most productive seasons playing under the tag in 2012 before heading to Denver in free agency in 2013.

  • K Stephen Gostkowski, 2015

    FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots looks on prior to kicking a field goal during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 04: Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots looks on prior to kicking a field goal during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Patriots tagged Gostkowski in 2015, Belichick’s third time using the tag on a kicker. This move came as somewhat of a surprise, with safety Devin McCourty also being a pending free agent at the time. Just before training camp, the Patriots and Gostkowski agreed on a new four-year deal.

     

  • G Joe Thuney, 2020

    Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney (62) gets ready before the snap against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney (62) gets ready before the snap against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

    After not using the tag for a few years, the Patriots delivered another surprise tagging Thuney in 2020. Given the team’s lack of cap space and significant needs, having one player take up nearly $15 million in cap space seemed unrealistic at the time. Thuney, then 28, played out the year in New England on the tag then signed with the Chiefs the next spring.