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Report: Patriots not expected to use franchise tag to keep J.C. Jackson from entering free agency

Related: Patriots free agency profile: J.C. Jackson is no lock to return to New England

NFL: New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that J.C. Jackson is indeed headed for free agency. According to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the New England Patriots are not expected to use the franchise tag to keep the Pro Bowl cornerback from entering the open market on March 16.

If Jackson becomes an unrestricted free agent, he will garner considerable interest. The 26-year-old, after all, is one of the best defensive backs in football and a legitimate number one option at the cornerback position.

An undrafted free agent in 2018, Jackson has appeared in a combined 67 regular season and playoff games over the course of his career. Along the way, he earned a Super Bowl ring and intercepted 25 passes — most in the NFL over that time span. His 25 picks also tie him with Lester Hayes and Everson Walls for the most ever by a player in his first four seasons as a pro.

Taking over as the Patriots’ CB1 in 2021, Jackson promptly earned his first ever Pro Bowl selection. Starting all 18 of the team’s games, he put up some impressive numbers despite regularly going up against opponents’ best receivers: Jackson surrendered 57 catches on 112 targets for 756 yards as well as three touchdowns, but he also intercepted eight throws.

Now, Mr. INT is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

The Patriots could either use the franchise tag at an estimated cost of $17.3 million to keep him in the fold for one more season, or sign him to a long-term contract extension before the start of the legal tampering window on March 14. However, it appears neither is likely to happen.

In turn, Jackson leaving the team that gave him his start in the NFL is a realistic possibility. If that happens, the team would likely be eligible to receive one of the top compensatory selection in the 2023 draft.