Report: Patriots shouldn’t place franchise tag on cornerback JC Jackson

INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots shouldn’t place the franchise tag on cornerback JC Jackson, according to NFL Network.

Jackson, who turns 27 in November, will instead become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the league year on March 16. The NFL’s legal tampering period, when agents and clubs can first enter into negotiations, begins at noon on March 14.

By letting Jackson hit the open market, the Patriots risk losing their No. 1 cornerback to another organization. Using the franchise tag would allow Jackson to return to the team on a one-year, $17.3 million contract – with his compensation equal to the average salary of the top five players in his position. The Patriots don’t have enough salary cap space for this trade, with less than $10 million available.

The team has until Tuesday, March 8 to decide on the tag.

Jackson could stay with the Patriots even without the tag, but the sides are expected to agree to a multi-year contract. This offseason is Jackson’s first opportunity to earn a big payday after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He played last season on his $2,000 second-round bid. $3.38 million.

In four seasons with the Patriots, Jackson’s total compensation was $5.184 million. His next deal should be on par with other top cornerbacks. In September 2020, Jalen Ramsey signed a five-year, $105 million extension with the Rams, with $71.2 million guaranteed. In September 2021, Marshon Lattimore signed a five-year, $97.6 million extension with the Saints.

Last season, Jackson recorded eight interceptions, 23 passes defended and 58 tackles. The Patriots offered Jackson an extension during the season but did not agree to the terms.

Jackson is represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus, who knows Patriots coach Bill Belichick very well due to his extensive clientele. Cornerback Jalen Mills, tight end Jonnu Smith and offensive tackle Trent Brown are also represented by Rosenhaus.

Jackson is expected to attract interest from a number of needy suitors in the area – and the competition could easily weigh on the Patriots. New England has a number of other key unrestricted free agents, including Brown, safety Devin McCourty, special teams ace Matthew Slater and running back James White.

If the Patriots don’t retain Jackson, adding a cornerback immediately jumps to the top of their priority list this offseason. New England have six picks in the upcoming draft – and at least one should be used on a cornerback.

Without Jackson, the Patriots depth chart at the position consists of Mills, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Justin Bethel. Jones primarily plays in the slot, leaving Mills, Williams, Wade and Bethel as the remaining outside options.

It’s obvious the Patriots could do with an upgrade. Mills isn’t a No. 1 cornerback, Williams was torched multiple times while unhealthy, Wade had 11 snaps last season, and Bethel is primarily a special teams player. Wade, 23, has potential — he started late in the Patriots system as a rookie last year — but his role and abilities are unknown.

This year’s draft class features several intriguing options in the early rounds, including Washington’s Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, Clemson’s Andrew Booth and Florida’s Kaiir Elam. Some of the more affordable cornerback free agents include Casey Hayward, Steven Nelson, DJ Reed, Charvarius Ward and Darious Williams.

Cornerback prospects are scheduled to answer questions from the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday, then complete practice and field testing on Sunday.

Nicole Yang can be contacted at [email protected]

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