For the first time in his career, J.C. Jackson is on the doorstep of hitting unrestricted free agency. Not only is the Patriots cornerback slated to hit the open market, but he's also billed as the top player at his position this cycle meaning he's in line for a massive payday. This comes after Jackson played the 2021 season under a second-round tender that New England placed on him last offseason when he was a restricted free agent.
Unless Bill Belichick elects to place the franchise tag on him before the deadline, the NFL will soon get a chance to land one of the most productive corners in the league. Since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent, Jackson has proved to be an opportunistic defensive back that had a nose for finding the football. That ability to create turnovers has only been showcased even more over the previous two seasons as Jackson has solidified himself as one of New England's key starters in the secondary.
Last year especially, Jackson served as the Patriots No. 1 corner and led the NFL in pass breakups (23) while totaling eight interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks also had just a 46.8 passer rating when targeting Jackson in 2021.
Given that Jackson has that level of play on his resume and is only 26, he will certainly be a sought-after figure once the new league year opens up. As we wait for all that to unfold, let this post be your hub for all things surrounding Jackson's free agency. Below, you'll find potential landing spots, a look at his projected contract, and a nugget-by-nugget news rundown of all the latest developments.
Salary cap figures come from Spotrac.
Potential landing spots
New England Patriots
Even with the Patriots reportedly deciding against placing the franchise tag on him, the door likely isn't entirely closed on Jackson returning to Foxborough. Bill Belichick has historically allowed players of Jackson's caliber to test the free-agent market and then come back to the team to see if they can match or put together a competitive offer. While the team may not be looking to pay a premium for Jackson, they are currently painted into a corner with no suitable in-house replacement ready to ascend to be the team's No. 1 corner. New England does have just around $7.3 million in cap space at the moment but should be able to maneuver things around to give themselves a shot at retaining Jackson.
If Jackson is looking to secure the biggest bag, the New York Jets may be the best option. The team is projected to have nearly $45 million in cap space this offseason and have a massive need at corner. Last season, New York's pass defense ranked dead last in the NFL in DVOA and their 260 passing yards allowed per game was the third-most by any team in the league. The 7.5 yards per pass attempt allowed was also tied for the second-most in the NFL. The Jets need a No. 1 corner to stabilize the secondary and Jackson could be the player that allows them to do it.
The Jaguars are another team with plenty of money to spend as they have the third-highest amount of cap space at around $56 million. They also have a need at the position as the only team that had a worse pass defense in DVOA than Jacksonville in 2021 was the Jets. Jackson could look at the Jaguars as an ascending team with Doug Pederson solidified as head coach and Trevor Lawrence under center that he can help form a winning foundation with while also getting paid handsomely.
The Raiders provide some familiarity for Jackson after Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler both went from the Patriots to Las Vegas this offseason as a head coach-GM duo. The team was in the bottom half of the league in DVOA against the pass last year and could look to upgrade at corner with Casey Hayward also set to hit free agency. The Raiders have roughly $20 million in available space.
Playing on the second-round tender last season paid Jackson $3.384 million, which proved to be a massive bargain for the Patriots. Because Jackson was an undrafted free agent, his entire tenure in New England to this point has been extremely beneficial to the team as he's only earned just over $5.6 million over his four-year career. However, that's all about to change in short order.
According to Spotrac's market value projections, Jackson is in line to see a contract that pays him an average annual salary of $20.9 million. Specifically, he's projected to receive a five-year contract worth over $104 million. If Jackson, in fact, lands such a contract, he would be the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.
If Jackson avoids being hit with the franchise tag and hits the open market, he'll leave New England for greener pastures as the Patriots won't come with a competitive enough offer to realistically be able to retain him. Instead, Jackson inks a mega-contract with his former team's AFC East rival in the New York Jets, who will look to build the secondary around him. Jackson will see New York as a destination where he can get paid as one of the league's top cornerbacks, while also helping create a contender as the Jets continue to develop second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.
March 5: J.C. Jackson is looking for market-setting money in free agency. Mike Giardi of the NFL Network reports that if teams are not willing to be in the contract range that is similar to Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, they don't want to talk. Currently, Ramsey is the NFL's highest-paid cornerback with an average annual salary of $20 million.
March 4: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that the Patriots are next expected to place the franchise tag on Jackson prior to the NFL deadline on March 8. This means, the cornerback will hit the free agent market and Rapoport says Jackson is expected to draw significant interest.
Feb. 22: Jackson told NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry that he would be willing to play under the franchise tag if New England decided to go in that direction. However, Jackson did add that he has yet to have any contact with the Patriots since the end of the 2021 season.
"I guess they feel like they don't need me," Jackson said. "I guess I can't be that important to them. I know I am, but they're not showing me." The corner added that the Patriots approached him about a contract extension during the 2021 season, but the two sides respectfully couldn't reach a deal. He carries no hard feelings and would welcome any chance to suit up for them again.
"I love the game," he told Perry. "If they tag me, I'm gonna go out there and play."