New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is enjoying a stellar 2021 season.
Since the October departure of Stephon Gilmore, Jackson has clearly established himself as New England’s top option at the position. Though he is evolving into a versatile, shutdown corner, his penchant for takeaways has earned him the nickname ‘Mr. INT.’
The 26-year-old has compiled 32 tackles, 15 passes defensed (his new career-high) and six interceptions, which is second only to Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback Trevon Diggs. As such, he has helped New England’s preventive unit to become the top scoring defense in the league. He has routinely demonstrated an impressive instinct for finding the football, while keeping his targets in range and maintaining a visual on opposing quarterbacks. With each passing week, he continued to demonstrate the ability to be a formidable force at the position for many years to come.
While Jackson’s emergence as a top-level cornerback is great news for their offense, it does present something of a dilemma. With the prolific corner set to enter free agency at the conclusion of the season, the Pats must decide whether to sign him to a long-term extension, franchise tag him, or allow him to test the waters of free agency. While his price tag is almost certainly to be steep (and deservedly so), Jackson is Signing him may be expensive. However, losing him may be even more costly.
Jackson’s contract, which is set to expire at the end of the season, is currently one of the greatest bargains in professional football. Having entered the league in 2018 as an undrafted free agent with New England, Jackson’s initial three-year pact carried only $60,000 in guarantees. In 2021, Jackson has a salary cap hit of $3.38 million as he is playing under the second-round restricted free agency tender.
Unsurprisingly, it is a near certainty that Jackson would command top-dollar on the open market. With the Patriots typically reluctant to sign cornerbacks to long-term, lucrative deals, many have speculated as to whether Jackson may be entering his final days in a Patriots uniform. Still, his predecessor, Gilmore, signed a five-year, $65 million deal that may be best described as mutually-beneficial for both he and the Patriots. While there is a chance that history may repeat itself, it is still too early to tell.
In the meantime, Jackson enters Week Twelve of the 2021 NFL season ranking 10th on the Patriots all-time interception list with 23 career interceptions. Should he notch one more interception, Jackson will tie with Nick Buoniconti and Ronnie Lippett for ninth place on the all-time list with 24 interceptions. Jackson’s 23 interceptions through his first four NFL seasons, allowed him to pass Mike Haynes (22) for the most through a player’s first four seasons with the Patriots.
As Jackson continues to earn Patriots’ team milestones, it becomes more evident that keeping him in a Pats uniform is in the best interest of both parties. New England clearly values his contributions, while Jackson, himself, seems to be happy to be a Patriot.
“I love playing for the New England Patriots, playing under Coach Belichick,” Jackson said while meeting with reporters on Friday. “I have grown as a football player since I’ve been here … It’s a place that gave me a chance from Day One. I would love to be a New England Patriot for a long time.”
While Jackson clearly understands that professional football is a business, he also realizes that the best way to ensure lucrative business is to continue to perform well throughout the remainder of the season. As a result, he seems content to leave the contractual business to his agents, while he takes care of business on the field.
“I’m a football player, I’m not an agent,” Jackson said. “So when it comes to negotiating contracts I’ll leave that up to my agent. I’ll let them deal with that stuff and I’ll just focus on football. That’s how I look at it. That’s how I control the situation.”
Whether the situation keeps Jackson in New England for the foreseeable future will persist as one of the most prominent questions surrounding the team heading into 2022.