You cannot blame a guy for trying. That’s very important to remember in the case of J.C. Jackson.
He’s 26. He’s been in the NFL for four seasons. No player in the Super Bowl era has intercepted more passes than Jackson (25) in his first four years in the league (Everson Walls and Lester Hayes also had 25). Undrafted out of Maryland, Jackson’s made $5.1 million in his entire pro career.
He’s got a duty and a right to chase every penny that’s coming to him in free agency the same way the people who own teams chase every penny despite the billions in their bank accounts.
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And that’s exactly what Jackson intends to do. In a Saturday tweet, our goombah Mike Giardi detailed the Jackson situation as it stands, and the big nugget therein was Jackson getting it out there that teams better come to him with Jalen Ramsey money if they want a long-term deal.
Ramsey is working on a five-year, $100 million deal with the Rams. His deal had a $25 million signing bonus and $43.7 million guaranteed at signing. Jackson is not as good as Ramsey. Do you know why Ramsey didn’t lead the NFL in passes defensed in 2021 or pick off 17 passes over the past two seasons as Jackson has? Because teams don’t throw at him.
New England Patriots
They will test Jackson because sometimes he fails the tests as he did in the playoff game against Buffalo when Stefon Diggs had himself a day with Jackson in coverage (I detailed Jackson’s 2021 season more deeply here).
But let’s set aside the conversation of whether or not Jackson is a $20 million per year player because, with a ballooning salary cap, $20 million in the NFL ain’t what it once was.
Let’s instead look at what Jackson’s stance means for the Patriots. First, it squishes the potential for a franchise-and-trade. We thought that was a longshot in the first place because A) the Patriots would have salary cap hoops to jump through to get Jackson franchised, B) if they couldn’t get fair compensation, they’d be stuck with Jackson at $17 million. Now, though, any potential trade partner knows that not only would it have to cough up trade compensation (a second or third-rounder), but they’d also then have to fork over a $20 million APY deal.
That being the case, waiting for Jackson to hit the market and saving yourself the draft pick is the prudent move for any team looking to add Jackson.
Is this the prudent move for the Patriots, letting Jackson go for nothing but a compensatory pick in next year’s draft?
That’s going to take some time to determine. Even though a Jackson-less secondary in 2022 means we can expect a blizzard of, “I guess they didn’t need Stephon Gilmore or J.C. Jackson…” bitching from the smooth-brain brigade every time someone goes for 400 yards on this defense, opposing QB rating in 2022 will not be the measure.
How do the Patriots allocate the money they didn’t spend on Jackson? How good are the players they spend on instead of J.C.? And perhaps more importantly, how well is Jackson performing wherever he is (the Chargers are reportedly ready to pursue).
Remember when the Patriots moved on from Malcolm Butler, he went to Tennessee on a five-year, $61 million contract in 2018. He was not good from the start and was released after three seasons. Butler was a Pro Bowler for the Patriots in 2015 and second-team All-Pro in 2016. In 2017, when the Patriots brought in Stephon Gilmore on a big-ticket deal, Butler’s mood darkened (understandably). The Patriots made the right call on Butler.
Admittedly, the Patriots’ overall situation is different -- there is no shutdown corner like Gilmore on the roster and the Patriots will want to drastically improve their cornerback group (and re-sign Devin McCourty) to avoid a total white-knuckle ride back there.
But individually, Jackson’s game and backstory has a lot more in common with Butler’s than it does Gilmore’s. Or Ramsey’s.
How much Jackson or Gilmore get as free agents this offseason and how well they play will be relevant. Just remember that between them they’ll be getting paid more than $30 million per year to ply their trade and for a 10-7 team that’s still in a rebuild after a shaky string of drafts, that’s way too rich for the Patriots’ blood.