There are very few ballhawks better than J.C. Jackson in today's NFL. He's totaled 17 interceptions over the last two years and led the NFL in 2021 with 23 passes defended. Nicknamed Mr. INT by New England Patriots faithful, Jackson has a nose for the ball and is almost always in position to make a play when it comes his way.
Jackson is also an unrestricted free agent this season and it looks like he'll hit the open market. The Patriots are reportedly declining to franchise-tag Jackson, and the second-team All-Pro wants to get paid. New England is loathe to give out big money like what Jackson is asking to impending free agents, especially in the secondary, where Bill Belichick has found stars of Jackson's caliber on the undrafted free agent market for years. However, the Patriots also have a habit of letting their best guys go to the market to see what their value is before re-signing them anyway.
If Jackson does leave New England, who could scoop him up? Here are three possible destinations.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners do not have a No. 1 cornerback and have not for quite some time. It is not their biggest issue on the roster but overall the secondary could use an influx of talent. Should San Francisco do what is expected and trade Jimmy Garoppolo, they'll open up $25 million on their books to use at their discretion. Jackson would be a good way to spend that money. The Niners have an elite team and Kyle Shanahan can make something out of literally anything offensively. Defensively they're loaded in the front seven. The back end needs a bit of help, and Jackson would be the ideal addition.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders were dead last in the NFL this past season with only six interceptions in total. Former GM Mike Mayock's misses in the draft on secondary players have already begun to take their toll. And yet, the Raiders still managed to make the postseason. Josh McDaniels is their new head coach and Dave Ziegler is their new GM. Both were with New England for most of the last decade and Ziegler was likely part of the process that identified Jackson as a hidden gem. With $17 million to spend in free agency this offseason, Las Vegas could go after Jackson feeling very comfortable with their knowledge of exactly what he brings to the table and begin revamping a defense that only has a few top-end players right now.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are projected to have a whopping $57 million in cap space this offseason. Such is the luxury of having an elite quarterback on a rookie deal. Their only important free agent of note is Mike Williams. They'll have plenty of money to play with, and targeting Jackson would be an excellent idea. Los Angeles' secondary let them down big-time during the stretch run of their season that caused the Chargers to miss out on the postseason. Pairing Jackson with Derwin James and Joey Bosa creates an elite trio of playmakers at every level of the field. Justin Herbert can make it work offensively. It's time the Chargers invested on the other side of the ball to form a well-rounded team capable of winning slugfests and shootouts in equal measure.