Cowboys Connected to Splash Signing of All-Pro Defender

J.C. Jackson

Getty J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots reacts during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2019.

In less than one month, on March 16, the Dallas Cowboys will enter the start of the new league year — and with it, the opening of NFL free agency.

After some necessary bookkeeping, the Cowboys should be under the league’s salary cap ahead of said date, allowing the club to retain in-house talent such as wide receiver Michael Gallup or defensive end Randy Gregory. And if Dallas really gets creative, they could muster enough cap room to execute one splashy, out-of-house signing.

To that extent, per Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys “stand out” as a potential landing spot for New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson assuming “they’re able to make things work financially.”

PFF projects Jackson landing a four-year, $72 million unrestricted free-agent contract, with $56 million in total guarantees. At $18 million annually, Jackson would become the sport’s fourth-highest-paid CB, leapfrogging Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White ($17.25 million).

Jackson played in 2021 on a second-round restricted free agent tender at a value of $3.384 million, presumably seeking an extension before the season. However, former New England Patriots cornerback and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, who was eventually traded to the Carolina Panthers, was also looking for new money headed into 2021. If Carlton Davis does get franchise-tagged, Jackson could become the top man coverage cornerback available after a full season serving as New England’s No. 1 player at the position.

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Background on Jackson

A former undrafted free agent, Jackson has compiled 158 tackles (129 solo), 53 pass deflections, and 25 interceptions across 62 career games (39 starts) — all in New England.

The 26-year-old broke up a personal-best 23 passes while making all 17 regular-season appearances last season en route to Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors. He ranked as PFF’s No. 7 CB among 116 qualifiers, drawing solid coverage marks (80.4 grade).

“Jackson was the second fiddle to Stephon Gilmore in New England for much of his career, but he’s still handled his fair share of tough, man-coverage assignments in Bill Belichick’s defense,” the analytics outlet noted. “He’s been one of the position’s best playmakers in that role, rarely squandering an interception opportunity. Dallas and New Orleans stand out as potential non-Patriots landing spots if they’re able to make things work financially.

Throwing at Jackson has resulted in one of the lowest passer ratings in the league since 2018 due to a combination of rarely getting beat downfield and his ability to produce turnovers. He has the man-coverage skill set that teams covet at the position.”

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Contract Prediction for Gregory

Jackson checked in as PFF’s sixth-rated impending free agent. Coming in at No. 14 is Gregory, who totaled the second-most regular-season sacks (6) on Dallas’ 2021 defense, behind only Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons (13).

Gregory, entering his age-29 campaign, is forecast to nab a two-year, $25 million pact ($15 million guaranteed) on the open market.

“Gregory has finally reached unrestricted free agent status after getting drafted No. 60 overall in 2015 and making an impressive return to full-time football action over the past two seasons,” wrote the PFF staff. “His 84.7 pass-rush grade in the 2021 regular season ranked 11th among edge defenders. The big question may be whether Dallas is able to retain a player who has developed into a premier pass-rusher while also paying edge defender Demarcus Lawrence top-five money at the position. If Gregory does reach free agency, there may be a long line of teams vying for his services.”

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