Patriots

PFF expert: J.C. Jackson a prime franchise-tag target for Patriots

The Patriots might not be willing to pay J.C. Jackson the big bucks just yet, but losing him this offseason is not an option. The franchise tag could be a compromise.

J.C. Jackson Patriots
New England Patriots J.C. Jackson returns an interception against the Atlanta Falcons. (Matthew J Lee/Globe staff)
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Few questions surrounding the Patriots’ offseason, except for maybe who calls the offensive plays, are more pressing than what the team decides to do with star cornerback J.C. Jackson.

The former undrafted free agent has had a dominant last two seasons, including earning his first All-Pro nod in 2021. But after signing a $3.384 million tender as a restricted free agent last year, it’s time for New England to pay up.

Pro Football Focus salary cap analyst Brad Spielberger suggested Tuesday the Patriots could opt to use the franchise tag to keep Jackson in town for next year rather than fork up the big bucks for multiple seasons, though.

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“The Patriots have never been afraid to place the franchise tag — most recently tagging guard Joe Thuney in 2020 before he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Chiefs in free agency last offseason,” Spielberger explained. “Jackson has a truly astonishing 17 interceptions over the last two seasons, but this means his perceived value is at an all-time high due to flashy stats in addition to career-best overall (82.7) and coverage grades (83.0) in 2021.

Perhaps the Patriots are comfortable waiting another season.”

Spielberger has previously told Boston.com the franchise tag might be “a foregone conclusion” for New England and Jackson to make sure the cornerback doesn’t hit the unrestricted free-agent market. The prospects of potentially committing an average of $17-18 million a season to the former undrafted corner, however, might not be what the Patriots have in mind.

But making sure Jackson is in the fold for 2022 should be top of mind for Bill Belichick going into the offseason. Aside from Jackson, there are no proven options at the boundary corner position, and it would almost certainly necessitate signing, trading for or drafting a highly regarded cornerback to replace him.

On the other hand, keeping him around — even if it is just for one more year — buys New England some time to figure out their options for the future while (hopefully) getting one more year of excellent play from Jackson as the team tries to rebound from its early playoff exit this season.

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