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Sunday Patriots Notes: Projecting a contract to keep free agent J.C. Jackson in New England

Related: Mac Jones on Josh McDaniels leaving the Patriots: ‘We’ll just have to figure out a game plan’

NFL: OCT 24 Jets at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first Sunday without football until September is upon us, and the New England Patriots continue to gear up for the 2022 season. Aside from Matt Groh’s elevation to the director of player personnel role, however, it was a rather slow week down at One Patriot Place.

That being said, the Patriots and their staff will be busy over the next few weeks identifying team needs before free agency and the draft. They look to put a competitive team on the field again in 2022, and those next few weeks will be crucial.

1. Projecting J.C. Jackson’s next contract. Coming into the league as an undrafted free agent and developing into one of the games top corners, J.C. Jackson now has the opportunity to cash in with the first real payday of his career. What will he be looking for? A list of the highest paid cornerbacks in football on an average-per-year basis might give us a clue:

  • Jalen Ramsey: $20 million APY
  • Marlon Humphrey: $19.5 million PAY
  • Marshon Lattimore: $19.4 APY
  • Tre’Davious White: $17.3 million APY
  • Darius Slay: $16.7 million APY
  • Byron Jones: $16.5 million APY

Jackson certainly feels he is as good, if not better, than most of the guys on this list and could likely get in the $17-plus million dollar range if he were to hit the open market. A likely approach the Patriots will take is to use the franchise tag on Jackson while trying to take advantage of the added time to work something out long-term with their No. 1 corner.

What might such a deal look like? Our friend Miguel Benzan recently proposed the following four-year deal that would save New England money in 2022 compared to using the cap, while also giving the defender considerable guarantees:

Miguel Benzan/@patscap/Twitter

One thing seems certain, though. If Jackson were to hit the market, the Patriots would likely not be able to win a bidding war with most teams.

2. What do New England’s coaching changes mean for Mac Jones? We often hear about the Year 2 jump that young players and quarterbacks in particular can take when maturing into their second pro season. As far as the Patriots’ starting QB, Mac Jones, is concerned a lot will depend on the coaching staff around him; with coordinator Josh McDaniels and several other offensive coaches headed to Las Vegas, the task at hand will be a tough one for the Patriots and Jones alike.

Expect Nick Caley, Joe Judge, and even Matt Patricia to have expanded roles on offense even without the official “offensive coordinator” title. Judge will likely be the de facto coordinator this season as he seems to have the most experience, while Caley and Patricia will likely handle passing game coordinator duties.

Jones mentioned at the Pro Bowl that he dealt with new coordinators throughout his collegiate career. Nonetheless, the situation will be a tough one for him: he is dealing with new faces all over the offense and saw his coordinator and QB coach from his rookie season depart with no clear replacement or general experience on the staff currently in sight.

3. James White’s 2022 plans. The Patriots offense took a major hit last season when it lost James White to a hip injury in Week 3. White is set to enter unrestricted free agency for the second consecutive season and it will be interesting to see if he returns. The Patriots have arguably the best two-back tandem in the league with both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, but getting White back for third down, pass protection and blitz pickup will be a key piece in helping the Patriots offense improve for 2022.

The team lacked a true and consistent chain-mover and a spark-plug guy on offense at times — a role White has filled for the last few years. Having him come back healthy would help Mac Jones in his second season.

4. Matt Groh’s journey to director of player personnel. Matt Groh will take over as the Patriots’ director of player personnel for the departed Dave Ziegler, and his journey through the ranks is one worth revisiting. Groh, who is the son of former Patriots assistant Al Groh, came into the NFL as a scouting assistant for the organization in 2011. He spent two seasons in that role before becoming an area and national scout from 2013 through 2020.

After Nick Caserio left in 2020, Groh became New England’s college scouting director and played a big role in drafting the Patriots’ strong class in 2021. The following behind-the-scenes clip shows just how big his input was:

Promoting Groh will likely not be the only move in the wake of Dave Ziegler’s departure. Expect Eliot Wolf, Matt Patricia and Steve Cargile to all have expanded roles in the front office. The team seems to prefer more of a team effort on the personnel side of things ever since jack-of-all-trades Nick Caserio left for Houston.

5. Raekwon McMillan’s role for 2022 comes into focus. One of the standouts early on in last year’s training camp was linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The offseason acquisition was constantly communicating, flying around and making plays on both defense and special teams before tearing his ACL just before the Patriots put the pads on.

“I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and intelligence,” head coach Bill Belichick said back in August following his strong start to camp. “He works extremely hard both on and off the field. He handles a lot of responsibilities both with the front and the coverage.”

With speed and playmaking ability needed at linebacker, the Patriots don’t have to look externally to fill one fo their linebacker spots. McMillan should be ready to go by training camp after missing the entire season, and his experience in the middle of the defense can help fill a leadership role on and off thefield for 2022.

Sunday Patriots Mailbag

Tackle is towards the top of my list in terms of the Patriots’ biggest needs heading into the draft. Sure, wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker are the most glaring needs and position the Patriots need an incision of youth at. But with Isaiah Wynn on the last year of his rookie contract and unable to stay healthy, and with Trent Brown set to hit free agency, the Patriots could certainly reset the clock at one of the tackle spots and take one in the first round. It is a deep tackle class which means that you can certainly find value in the later rounds, too.

It certainly wouldn’t be shocking if the Patriots elected to not take a wide receiver until Day 3 of the draft. With big money tied to Nelson Agholor as well as tight end Jonnu Smith, it is possible the team looks at them to make a large jump in Year 2 rather than expecting a first-round rookie to make that big of an impact right away.

The Patriots do need to upgrade their wide receiver room and get younger at the position while also upgrading the depth behind Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. However, they may just wait until later on in the draft to do so.

The Patriots invested in both Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor last offseason and have only drafted two wide receivers since 2019 (N’Keal Harry and Tre Nixon). With their salary cap space currently south of $5 million, per Miguel Benzan, the Patriots will need to do some re-tooling to be able to improve through free agency or the big-name trade market.

With the lack of young playmakers at the wide receiver position and investments needed to sign one on the open market or acquire via trade, drafting and developing a wide receiver through the draft should be the Patriots’ plan going into 2022.