The New England Patriots’ cornerback group has suffered its fair share of injuries over the first four weeks of the season, prompting the club to add some reinforcements now: Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson, who had started his career in New England, was acquired via trade less than 19 months after his free agency departure to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jackson’s tenure in the AFC West was a disappointment — he appeared in just seven games with one interception — but that did not stop the Patriots form bringing him back into the mix. On Wednesday, they sent a 2025 sixth-round draft pick to the Chargers for the 27-year-old and a seventh-round selection that same year.
What does all of that mean from a big picture perspective, though? Let’s find out.
The Patriots give their cornerback depth chart a much-needed boost: As noted above, New England’s cornerback group was ravaged by injuries recently. Four of the nominal top five cornerbacks on the depth chart are currently hurt: Jonathan Jones missed the last three games with an ankle injury; Jack Jones and Marcus Jones are on injured reserve because of hamstring and shoulder injuries, respectively; and now Christian Gonzalez will likely miss the rest of the season as well due to a torn labrum.
While all three Joneses are expected back at one point, the Patriots’ only healthy cornerbacks as of Wednesday were Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade and Ameer Speed as well as practice squad members Breon Borders and Azizi Hearn. That is one rotational option (Bryant), one rookie special teamer (Speed) and three career backups.
It is not hard to see why the Patriots made a move.
His medicals were apparently not a deal-breaker...: Jackson, by his own admission, is also not at a full 100 percent. The veteran defender, after all, is coming off a torn patellar tendon that ended his 2022 season prematurely and also limited him early on in 2023.
While it remains to be seen if Jackson will pass his physical in New England, the fact that the team swung a trade in the first place is proof of its confidence.
...and neither were other issues: When it comes to Jackson, his medicals were a key part of why things did not work out in Los Angeles. However, he also simply did not play good enough football in a system that appeared to never fully foster his strengths as a player. Heading back to New England, where he has a proven track record of production, should help with that.
On top of those questions, there are also potential legal concerns. In late September, an arrest warrant was issued for Jackson after he did not appear in court for a probation violation hearing. Again, it seems the Patriots are confident that the matter will be settled in a satisfying fashion.
New England adds a physicality, ball production: As for Jackson as a player, he should help fill the void created by Christian Gonzalez’s possibly season-ending shoulder injury. He is, after all, a proven press-man corner capable of taking on CB1 responsibilities. While it remains to be seen whether he can pick up where he left off when he departed New England last offseason, his foundation should be a strong one.
The same also is true for his knack for the football. Jackson was one of the NFL’s premier ballhawks before signing with the Chargers, and one would believe the Patriots will again put him in positions where his ball skills and feel for making big plays could come into focus again.
Jackson’s cap impact will be relatively small, at least in 2023: Based on the fact that the Chargers will continue paying a significant portion of Jackson’s salary this season, they effectively just wanted to offload him. The Patriots happily picked him up, and it resulted in them adding a Pro Bowl-caliber defender at a cap hit of around $1.5 million.
Of course, that number will balloon significantly next year. Jackson’s cap hits over the remainder of his contract — i.e. between 2024 and 2026 — hovers at just over $14 million each year. Will the Patriots be willing to pay that? If he returns to form and then some this season, they might.
As things stand right now, however, a restructure before a $2 million roster bonus is due March 19 seems like the most realistic option.
The Patriots lose virtually no draft capital: As noted above, the Patriots traded a 2025 sixth-round pick for Jackson and a 2025 seventh-rounder. That one-round drop is barely noticeable as far as draft value is concerned and shows that the Chargers just wanted to get rid of the contract they offered the defender last March.