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NFL free agency rumors: Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson reportedly looking for $20 million per year

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

NFL: SEP 26 Saints at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unless the New England Patriots decide to place the franchise tag on him before Tuesday’s deadline, J.C. Jackson will become an unrestricted free agent on March 16. The best cornerback available, he will undoubtably face a robust market — one that will make it hard for the Patriots to retain the Pro Bowler.

Jackson, after all, is reportedly looking for a sizable payday. According to Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson, the 26-year-old is “chasing a $20 million annual average” and that “some team might pay him nearly that amount.”

If Jackson will indeed get his desired average, he would tie the Los Angeles Rams’ Jalen Ramsey as the highest-paid cornerback in football on a per-year basis.

While it remains to be seen whether or not that really happens, the rumored price tag would all but eliminate the Patriots from competing for Jackson’s services if forced to enter a bidding war. Even after releasing linebacker Kyle Van Noy on Monday, the team has only $9.5 million in salary cap space available at the moment.

There are ways to further increase that amount before the start of free agency. However, it will likely not be enough to keep both Jackson and re-sign a significant portion of their other 17 free agents-to-be.

Jackson, meanwhile, has certainly earned his payday. After going undrafted out of Maryland in 2018, he signed with the Patriots and developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the game.

Jackson has appeared in a combined 67 regular season and playoff games over the course of his career, earning a Super Bowl ring and one Pro Bowl nomination. Along the way, he also intercepted 25 passes — the most in the NFL over that time span — and by 2021 was the number one cornerback on one of the best defenses in the league. Throughout all of this, Jackson kept playing on a low-cost deal.

Now, he is finally set to cash in big-time. The Patriots might be able to keep him by using the $17.3 million franchise tag, but such a move is not expected to happen.

Instead, Jackson will likely get his shot at the open market — and at become one of the NFL’s highest-paid players at his position.