The NFL franchise tag deadline came and went, and the New England Patriots did not take advantage of it. The Patriots declined to use the tag on one of their 15 unrestricted free agents-to-be, meaning that all of them are now officially scheduled to hit the open market in eight days.
Among the players impacted by the team’s decision is J.C. Jackson. The only realistic candidate to get tagged by the Patriots, the Pro Bowl cornerback will become a free agent at the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on March 16.
The expectation is that he will be a popular target once available. Jackson, who leads the league in interceptions since his arrival as an undrafted rookie in 2018, is reportedly looking for a contract paying him $20 million annually. That per-year average would make him the highest-paid cornerback in football, tied with the Los Angeles Rams’ Jalen Ramsey.
While it remains to be seen if Jackson gets his wish, the Patriots retaining him will be difficult now. The team, after all, is currently just $9.5 million under the salary cap and not in a situation to enter a bidding war for his services.
Jackson, who would have cost $17.3 million if tagged, is not the only Patriots player about to hit free agency next week.
On the offensive side of the ball, the club has six players in need of new contracts: offensive linemen Trent Brown and Ted Karras, running backs James White and Brandon Bolden, quarterback Brian Hoyer, and tight end Troy Fumagalli. On defense, meanwhile, Jackson will be joined in free agency by linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins, safety Devin McCourty, and defensive tackle Carl Davis.
Kicker Nick Folk as well as key special teamers Matthew Slater and Brandon King will also see their contracts expire next Wednesday. Furthermore, wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as well as fullback Jakob Johnson are restricted free agents; they will enter the open market as well if not tendered by March 16.
A total of eight teams used the franchise tag this year: the Cleveland Browns (TE David Njoku), Cincinnati Bengals (S Jessie Bates III), Kansas City Chiefs (OT Orlando Brown Jr.), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WR Chris Godwin), Miami Dolphins (TE Mike Gesicki), Dallas Cowboys (TE Dalton Schultz), Jacksonville Jaguars (OT Cam Robinson), and Green Bay Packers (WR Davante Adams).
The Patriots last used the franchise tag in 2020. That year, guard Joe Thuney as tagged. A year later, Thuney left the team in free agency to sign with the Chiefs.