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Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson named among most likely franchise tag candidates

Related: Sunday Patriots Notes: Projecting a new contract for J.C. Jackson

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have some big names on their list of free agents-to-be, but J.C. Jackson still stands out among them. The team’s number one cornerback in 2021 as well as a Pro Bowl selection, Jackson has developed into the NFL’s premier ballhawks in his four seasons since arriving as a rookie free agent.

Needless to say that he will have his fair share of suitors once he hits the open market. The question is: Will he?

Jackson, after all, is a prime candidate to receive the franchise tag this season — a notion supported by CBS Sports’ salary cap expert Joel Corry:

J.C. Jackson is putting to rest any questions about whether he could assume No. 1 cornerback duties in New England raised by Stephon Gilmore’s early season departure to the Panthers in a trade. The 2018 undrafted free agent, who is playing under a $3.384 million restricted free agent tender, was named November’s AFC Defensive Player of the Month. Jackson was just named to his first Pro Bowl. He will be an AFC starter.

Jackson is arguably the NFL’s premier ballhawk. He is second in the league this season with seven interceptions. Jackson has the NFL’s most interceptions since the start of the 2019 season with 21. His 21 passes defensed are tied for the most this season. A cornerback in his prime with a complete skill set, like Jackson, will be a hot commodity in free agency, if he gets to market.

A former agent, Corry knows a thing or two about how teams deal with their star players. But even a person not previously associated with the league can see why Jackson is a candidate to receive the franchise tag: the Patriots defense is unquestionably better with him in the fold, and the tag would be a tool to keep him around if no long-term extension is reached before March 8.

If New England was to use the franchise tag on Jackson, he would count a projected $17.3 million against the salary cap in 2022 on a one-year deal. An extension, on the other hand, would probably not be as expensive for the upcoming season while also keeping the star cornerback in the fold for the foreseeable future.