J.C. Jackson is back in New England. Not even 19 months after he left the Patriots to join the Los Angeles Chargers on a five-year, $82.5 million contract, the veteran cornerback was traded back to his old club in exchange for a late-round pick swap.
The road traveled by Jackson to return to the Patriots is not an unfamiliar one. Through the years, several players have left the organization for greener pastures elsewhere, only to find themselves falling out of favor for one reason or another, and coming back to their former stomping grounds on reduced terms.
Jackson is the fourth player on the current team to fall into that category, joining offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive end Trey Flowers, and linebacker Calvin Munson. Brown has looked good since re-joining the Patriots, and Munson continues to fill his usual role as an emergency piece on defense and special teams.
The jury is still out on Flowers, and the latest returnee: J.C. Jackson. We already discussed Flowers’ outlook after he was re-signed in August; now, let’s turn our attention to Jackson to predict what can be expected from him.
For that, let’s turn to our trusted Chung-Butler scale, named after former Patriots Patrick Chung and Malcolm Butler, whose second stints with the team worked differently: Chung developed from solid but unspectacular contributor to franchise cornerstone, whereas Butler went from multi-year starter to not seeing the field at all.
(Side note: The scale was previously named after Chung and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, but after some thought we decided to re-name with Butler as the second end of the spectrum).
In spite of the updated name, the scale still works as always. Players who perform better in their second and/or third go-arounds with the Patriots will be placed closer to Chung’s end of the scale. Players not living up to previous levels of play will move closer to Butler’s. The Brian Hoyer Meridian marks the middle ground between those two extremes.
So, where will J.C. Jackson end up? Before trying to answer that question, let’s take a look back at his first stint as a Patriot.
Between joining the club as a rookie free agent in 2018 and his departure to the Chargers after the 2021 season, Jackson developed from roster bubble player to one of the NFL’s top ballhawks. As such, he ended up appearing in a combined 67 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots with 42 starts, picking off 25 passes — including one returned for a touchdown — and recovering three fumbles.
Jackson earned a Super Bowl ring in his first season with the Patriots, albeit in more of a rotational role. In his final year with the team, he was voted to his first Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro.
Given the success he has had in those first four seasons in New England and the fact that he is still only 27 years old, Jackson landing close to the Brian Hoyer Meridian but on the Butler side of the scale would not be a surprise.
He will continue seeing prominent action as a starter-level defender in 2023, but matching let along surpassing his previous production will be difficult. That is especially true considering that he is still not a full 100 percent, by his own admission, after a ruptured patellar tendon put a premature end to his 2022 campaign. A rejuvenated Jackson might come close to his “Mr. INT” levels of play, but reaching Pro Bowl form again on such a quick turnaround is an optimistic outlook.
There also is the question of his future. Due to his contract transferring from L.A. to New England, Jackson is signed through the 2026 season, but there is no guarantee the team will keep him on a cap hit north of $14 million next year and beyond.
Add it all up and you can see that Jackson coming up on the right-hand side of the scale is probably the most realistic outcome.
Jackson landing in the projected area would not per se make his second tenure in New England a disappointment, though. It is rather an acknowledgement of a) the circumstances, and b) how well he performed between 2018 and 2021.
Of course, he has made a habit out of beating expectation throughout his football career — for better or, if you ask the Chargers, worse.