J.C. Jackson looks like he'll be available for all of the NFL to pursue. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that the New England Patriots are not expected to place the franchise tag on the cornerback leading up to the March 8 deadline, meaning he will, in fact, reach unrestricted free agency. There, Rapoport relays Jackson is expected to generate significant interest.
Things have been trending in this direction for quite a while. Jackson told NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry back in late February that he hasn't had any contact with the Patriots since the season ended. While he also said he would be open to playing under the tag if that's the road New England decided to go down, it now appears like they'll let him walk.
Jackson is arguably going to be the top defensive back in this free-agent class and could very well reset the market at his position. According to Spotrac's market value calculator, Jackson is projected to see a contract that pays him an average annual salary of $20.9 million, which would make him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. If Jackson inks a deal at or close to that number, that could result in his time in New England coming to an end.
However, Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal reports that Jackson would like to return to the Patriots -- the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2018. In the past, the Patriots have let key free agents test the open market, field offers, and then bring them back to the team to see if they can either match or bring a competitive offer to the table. Currently, the Patriots are projected to have just over $7.3 million in available cap space this offseason, which would price them out of Jackson's market if they don't make any cap-clearing moves between now and the start of the new league year on March 16.
Since coming into the league, Jackson has statistically been one of the NFL's most prolific corners. He's totaled 25 interceptions over the last four seasons and just put together a second-team All-Pro campaign in 2021 where he led the NFL with 23 pass breakups. When targeted this year, Jackson allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 49.1% of their passes and register a 46.8 passer rating.
That type of production combined with Jackson only slated to be 26 at the start of next season should result in a massive payday when he eventually hits free agency.