Patriots Star’s Best Fit is With the Cardinals, Says NFL Analyst

Getty Kliff Kingsbury

The New England Patriots‘ No. 1 free agent will be difficult to retain. J.C. Jackson is considered the No. 1 free agent cornerback. Quite honestly, unless the Patriots use the franchise tag on Jackson, they may lose him. There are a lot of corner-hungry teams in the NFL and Jackson figures to be on multiple wish lists.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Matt Bowen believes Jackson’s best fit is with the Arizona Cardinals. “Why it makes sense: The Cardinals have shown they will do whatever it takes to win, and signing Jackson would be a win,” Fowler wrote. “A top-shelf cover corner in his prime with serious ball production (17 interceptions since 2020) gives Arizona just what it needs to stabilize the secondary. The Raiders, with strong New England ties, make sense, too.”

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The Cardinals’ secondary is need of a jolt. Arizona finished tied for 15th in the NFL in interceptions in 2021 with 13 picks as a team while Jackson hauled in 8 on his own for the Patriots.

“Scheme fit: Jackson is an upper-tier corner in this league, with the coverage traits and playmaking ability to consistently find the ball,” Bowen added. “It’s an easy transition here to Vance Joseph’s scheme, where we should see more man coverage and pressure with Jackson in the mix.”

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Would Jackson be exposed in a scheme where he has more pure man coverage responsibilities? You could argue he’d be landing in an even tougher division in the NFC West. He’d be seeing Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel and DK Metcalf twice a year, so that’s also something to consider.

Can the Patriots Afford to Allow JC Jackson to Walk?

The Patriots had better have a strong Plan B in place if they decide to allow Jackson to walk. They could tag or extend Jackson, but if he leaves, the Patriots almost have to chase a less-expensive option in free agency while also drafting a corner they believe can play meaningful snaps early in his career.

It’s hard not to imagine Jackson’s potential exit being seen as an automatic step backward for New England. New England could find a rookie or young player who has a surprising impact, but they will need some good fortune and/or excellent scouting to find someone capable of producing the way Jackson has since he came into the NFL.

Who Might Replace Jackson if He Leaves?

If Jackson does bolt, look for the Patriots to target guys like Casey Hayward. The 2-time Pro-Bowler is going to be 33 at the beginning of the 2022 season, but he has proven to be durable and productive.

Hayward played in all 17 games for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021. Since 2013, Hayward has only missed 2 games. He led the NFL in interceptions while with the San Diego Chargers in 2016 with 7, but since then, that part of his game has taken a dip.

Hayward has managed just 8 picks over the past five years. There is no doubt he would be considered a downgrade from Jackson, but he figures to be a cheaper option if the Patriots don’t see Jackson as the kind of player worth the franchise tag or an extension.

Stay tuned, because what happens will Jackson will be the biggest story early on in the Patriots’ offseason.

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