Instead of quietly letting the weekend come to an end, the New England Patriots decided to spice things up a bit by acquiring now-former Detroit Lions cornerback Michael Jackson via trade. The Patriots sent a conditional seventh-round draft pick to Detroit in order to get the 23-year-old aboard, thus further bolstering a position that is already the deepest on the team. Let us therefore take a closer look at what the Jackson trade means from New England’s point of view.
New England adds another press-man cornerback...
The Patriots run one of the most aggressive coverage schemes in football, which is possible in part due to their cornerbacks’ abilities when it comes to challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage. In this sense, Jackson fits in well with his new team considering that he entered the NFL in 2019 coming off a two-year stint as a starter at Miami during which he was used primarily in press-man.
Scouting reports ahead of last year’s draft reflect his ability to get physical upon contact and win with his size and strength rather than his fluidity.
Jon Ledyard of the Draft Network, for example, had to say the following about Jackson:
I love Jackson’s flashes of ball skills, as well as his patience and strength in press at the line of scrimmage. Still, he’s not fluid or athletic enough to recover if he gives up separation early on, and hard-breaking routes will lose him at the next level. Jackson projects well as a press Cover 3 cornerback with the ability to disrupt at the line and challenge vertical throws with his length, leaping ability and ball skills in zone. [...] Jackson may project as a press-man cornerback in some locations, in which case grabbiness and technique will need to improve to eliminate separation at all levels of the field. There is starting ability here, but the limitations are real enough the Jackson will need to be protected by his assignments to reach his peak in the NFL.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic had a similar point of view:
Jackson offers a good mix of length and speed with adequate instincts for the position, but savvy route runners will get him off balance. While he flashes an aggressive nature in run support, he needs to show better restraint in coverage.
Jackson has had only limited opportunities in the NFL so far to show how he has progressed compared to the college tape that forms the basis of those scouting reports. That said, the Patriots obviously liked what they saw in the former fifth-round draft pick in regards to his upside as a man-to-man defender within their scheme — no matter if they project him as a big slot or a perimeter option.
...as the NFL’s deepest position group gets even more depth
As noted above, the cornerback position is already the deepest on the team and arguably even in the entire league. Jackson is therefore not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man squad come cutdown day: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams are all safe bets to make the team, with Justin Bethel having solid odds to join them as well based on his special teams work. This leaves the newest Patriot to compete with D’Angelo Ross and Myles Bryant for what might very well be the final roster spot or a role on the practice squad.
Either way, adding Jackson further solidifies the backend of what is already an impressively talented position. If nothing else, the ex-Lion provides some developmental upside and a level of experience that neither Ross nor Bryant have in case the injury bug bites the players higher up on the depth chart.
Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio go a familiar route
The Patriots’ front office led by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio is no stranger when it comes to dealing with the Lions since the latter team decided to hire Bob Quinn as its general manager in 2016: Quinn, who started his career in New England in 2000 and worked his way up to director of pro scouting before leaving for Detroit, has swung eight deals with his former organization over the last four years.
- 2016: LB Jon Bostic to Detroit for conditional 2017 seventh-round draft pick
- 2016: LB Kyle Van Noy and 2017 seventh-round draft pick to New England for 2017 sixth-round draft pick
- 2017: Third-round draft pick to New England for third- and fourth-round draft picks
- 2017: CB Johnson Bademosi to New England for 2019 sixth-round draft pick
- 2018: Second- and fourth-round draft picks to New England for second-round draft pick
- 2018: 2019 third-round draft pick to New England for fourth-round draft pick
- 2020: S Duron Harmon to Detroit for fifth-round draft pick
- 2020: CB Michael Jackson to New England for conditional 2022 seventh-round draft pick
Quinn and the Patriots also had two more trades in the pipeline that eventually fell through. In 2018, New England decided to send Rob Gronkowski to Detroit, but the trade was not completed after the tight end vetoed the move. One year later, fellow tight end Michael Roberts was to be sent to the Patriots but reverted back to the Lions after failing his physical.
Their seventh-round draft pick may stay with the Patriots after all
As noted above, the draft selection New England sent to the Lions in order to acquire Jackson is tied to some conditions: the cornerback will have to meet certain playing time parameters in order for Detroit to get the pick. Given the state of the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart, however, it would not be a surprise if it therefore stayed in New England when all was said and done. After all, Jackson is no lock to make the roster and could very well wind up as a cutdown-day release and possibly a subsequent practice squad addition.
The move still makes sense from Detroit’s perspective, though. The team was likely to release Jackson and at least secured something in return — even if more in theory than in practice. New England, meanwhile, gave up little to jump the waiver-wire process to get a player who has some traits to work with.
The Patriots’ salary cap number does not change
Jackson arrives in New England with a salary of $675,000 — one that is not high enough to put him on the Patriots’ top-51 list for the time being. Given that he does also not have any guarantees remaining in his deal, this means that the club’s salary cap number of $33.43 million (per Miguel Benzan) remains unchanged as its player count jumps from 75 to 76. Jackson will only hit New England’s books after he makes the roster or is signed to the practice squad.