When J.C. Jackson spoke for the first time this offseason about his free agent status, it did not appear like the New England Patriots were off to a good start if their hope was to ink their All-Pro cornerback to a long-term contract extension in the upcoming weeks.
“I guess they feel like they don’t need me,” Jackson told NBC Sports Boston’s last week. “I guess I can’t be that important to them. I know I am, but they’re not showing me. ... I’m taking it day by day. But it’s time for me to get paid. It’s time to get Mr. INT paid.”
Getting paid is exactly what Mr. INT will (rightfully) do this offseason, as the former undrafted free agent continues to prove his worth as an elite cornerback in the NFL. Operating as a true No. 1 corner for the first time in his career this past season, Jackson posted a career high 78.9 PFF grade, which ranked seventh out of a qualified 116 cornerbacks across the league.
Despite Jackson’s comments — in which he stated the Patriots have not been in contact with him about a new deal — history suggests Bill Belichick and Co. are moving at a similar speed at years past. Patience may be the key word here, even if Jackson seems antsy as he enters his first NFL free agency.
Looking at past precedent, Jackson will enter next season at 27 years old, entering almost the exact same situation former Patriot cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Malcolm Butler found themselves in when Belichick let them walk in free agency.
After earning first-team All-Pro honors playing on the franchise tag in 2007, Belichick let Samuel, 26, walk away after the relationship turned sour. Similarly, the 27-year old Butler received his big pay day elsewhere, as Belichick let him walk away after his infamous Super Bowl 52 benching.
While past precedent may foreshadow a poor outcome between the Patriots and Jackson as they eventual enter negotiations, Belichick has been no stranger to dishing out top-of-market deals for elite cornerbacks. Entering the 2014 season, the Patriots inked Darrelle Revis to a two-year, $32 million contract — although the team declined his $20 million second year option which was considered a “placeholder.” Several years later after Butler departed to Tennessee, Belichick wasted little time finding his replacement, paying Stephon Gilmore $65 million over five years.
Moving forward, the Patriots will certainly be interested in retaining Jackson’s services. The cornerback even said it himself, telling NBC Sports Boston that the team approached him about a contract extension during the 2021 season — something they didn't do with either Samuel or Butler.
The price for keeping their homegrown star will not be cheap. Jackson will easily be paid as a top five cornerback, perhaps sliding in around New Orleans Saints’ corner Marshon Lattimore ($19.4 million) and Baltimore Ravens’ corner Marlon Humphrey ($19.5 million) yearly averages. Don't rule out Jackson also having a chance top Jalen Ramsey’s five-year, $100 million deal, especially if he reaches the open market.
As for the offseason negotiations, Belichick rarely begins talking with free agents before the NFL Combine, which will take place from March 1st through March 7th. And if the team decides to go the franchise tag route — which Jackson said he would play on — don't expect that paperwork to be rushed to the league offices. When New England last used the franchise tag on guard Joe Thuney in 2020, the official word, which surprised even Thuney himself, was not made until right before the deadline.
Things are still extremely early, and Belichick is trudging along at his usual speed. Patience.