The New England Patriots’ biggest free agent will be wearing a different uniform in 2022. Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson is leaving the team in unrestricted free agency to sign a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jackson first joined the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and has since developed into one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. Accordingly, he was looking to cash in during his first trip to the open market. It looks like the 26-year-old did just that, leaving New England to become one of the highest-paid players in the league at his position.
What exactly does his departure mean for the Patriots, though? Let’s find out.
The Patriots lose their best defensive back
Jackson was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2021 after proving himself a legitimate top-tier cornerback. Regularly taking on opposing number one wideouts, he surrendered 57 catches on 112 targets for 756 yards and three touchdowns while also catching eight interceptions.
Jackson did have some ups and downs, most notable against Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, but he played at a high level throughout the season. He was the Patriots’ best defensive back in 2021, and a big reason for the team’s success on this side of the ball.
He also continued to prove himself the premier ballhawk in the league. As noted above, Jackson added eight more interceptions to his career total last year: he has now caught 25 picks, tied for the most in league history over a player’s first four years in the league.
Cornerback is now a major need
One year ago, the Patriots had both Jackson and Stephon Gilmore under contract to form arguably the NFL’s best cornerback tandem. Now, both are gone: Jackson joined the Chargers, while Gilmore was traded to the Carolina Panthers during the 2021 regular season.
With the two star players no longer available, the Patriots’ cornerback group is now one collective question mark. At the moment, Jalen Mills projects as the number one outside cornerback — a role he is not suited to play based on his previous performances in the league. The other starting spot on the perimeter probably belongs to Joejuan Williams, who has disappointed ever since getting drafted in the second-round in 2019.
Heading into the season with Mills and Williams as the one-two punch on the perimeter would spell disaster. Make no mistake: the Patriots need to find a way to significantly upgrade their cornerback depth chart.
Patriots were unable or unwilling to make Jackson a top-six cornerback
While there were rumors that he would be looking for an average of $20 million per year in a new deal, Jackson eventually had to settle for $16.5 million. The number still pays him among the top cornerbacks in football, but he is not heading the list: based on his annual average, Jackson is now the sixth highest-paid player at the position.
The Patriots were either unable or unwilling to pay him that amount. The former is certainly possible given the comparatively limited resources they have available this year, but the latter perspective cannot entirely be left out of the conversation as well.
At the end of the day, though, New England’s loss is Los Angeles’ gain.
New England will get an early compensatory selection
With Jackson signing a massive deal with the Chargers, the Patriots will be in line to receive one of the earliest compensatory draft selections in 2023. While other factors will determine just how big of a role the departure will be worth in the NFL’s eyes, at the moment Jackson would likely net the team an additional third-rounder in 2023.
Together with the sixth-rounder the Patriots would get for losing guard Ted Karras to the Cincinnati Bengals, they would now own 10 selections in next year’s draft. Obviously, though, any outside additions or other big-money moves made by other clubs would impact that outlook.
The gist remains, though: the Patriots lost Jackson to a significant deal.