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The Battle to Keep JC Jackson in NE Has Begun, And Mr. INT Sounds Pissed

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Franchise Tagging Season has just begun in the NFL. Meaning that between now and March 8th, teams are allowed to take their prize free agents off table at the NFL yard sale, bring them back in the house and enjoy them for at least another year. 

And this year among the items expected to draw the most attention - a list that includes Green Bay's Davante Adams, Arizona's Chandler Jones and Kansas City's Orlando Brown - is JC Jackson. At this point there is no telling what they intend to do. Whether they'll leave Jackson out on the table to be snatched up by Al from Al's Toy Barn or make him the sixth player they've used the tag on in the last dozen years - Vince Wilfork in 2010, Logan Mankins in '11, Wes Welker in '12, Stephen Gostkowski in '15 and Joe Thuney in '20 being the others -  is anyone's guess.

What we do know is that the tag is rarely, if ever, welcome. Wilfork and Mankins seemed to be particularly pissed off by it, though both signed. Welker and Thuney both skipped town after one season under it. And if memory serves, I think only Gostkowski seemed to be OK with it. You'd have to check with him. 

But as Jackson hits this two week window of waiting to hear his fate, two things we can definitely confirm are:

1. He is not happy about his situation

2. He expects to get PAID. 

Source -  Jackson told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday that the Patriots have not been in touch with him about a new contract since the end of the season.

"I guess they feel like they don't need me," Jackson said. "I guess I can't be that important to them. I know I am, but they're not showing me." … 

Jackson said he would be open to playing on the tag should the Patriots go that route.

"I love the game," he said. "If they tag me, I'm gonna go out there and play. …

"Whatever happens happens," Jackson said. "I'm taking it day by day. But it's time for me to get paid. It's time to get Mr. INT paid."

By no means is Jackson wrong about any of it. Especially that last part. Sure, you might take exception to him referring to himself in the third person, and using a nickname, no less. But I've called myself either The Belichick Whisperer or Old Balls in print way too many times to raise those red flags. Besides, I'll point out that Mr. INT moniker has been used by the team social media account too many times to count. Pretty much every time he records a pick, which he has done more than anyone since he became the team's full time corner in 2019. 

Jackson:

  • Finished second in the NFL interceptions each of the last two years
  • Led the league with 23 passes defensed this year, after finishing 8th the year before
  • Had the 3rd lowest passer rating against among all corners in 2021 with 52.4, after finishing 5th with 62.7 the year before, and 1st in 2019, with 35.9
  • And for you analytics stans, his Pro Football Focus coverage grade this year was a career-best 80.4, good for 5th among CBs
  • Hasn't missed a game since the three early season games where he was inactive as a UDFA in 2018

Cover corners with curriculum vitaes like Jackson don't hit the open market at the age of 26 every day. So yes, Mr. INT is going to get paid in a few weeks, either in Kraftbucks or by somebody else. 

By all accounts, tagging Jackson will cost a guaranteed $17.3 million. And by the only account that matters on the issue of the Patriots salary cap, they currently have $4.8 million and change, but with plenty of options for increasing that number:

All of which begs the question of what the Pats intentions are.

One thing we can absolutely rule out is any sort of feelings coming into play here, good or bad. Yes, they no doubt love Jackson's story. How he left U. of Florida, went to a community college and eventually to Maryland. How they took a chance on him, he earned a roster spot, worked his way into earning the CB1 job and becoming one of the best in the game. But his career exactly parallels that of Malcolm Butler, and they had no problem letting him walk. In 2018, Tennessee signed him for five years and $61 million, with $24 million guaranteed. And within year, Butler was barely the third best corner on their roster. By 2021, he was in Arizona. Now he's retired. Meanwhile the Patriots replaced him with Jackson, who's younger, has been better, and much, much cheaper. So there's reason to think they're confident they can find the next Butler or the next Jackson. Whether they can or not, we won't know until we know. But if we've learned anything over 22 years, it's that Bill Belichick doesn't believe in the concept of irreplaceable men. 

As far as any potential bad feelings, those won't come into play either. Jackson can talk all he wants about how the team thinks they don't "need" him or what's "important" to them or what they are or are not "showing" him. None of that matters at the negotiating table. It never has. The best cornerback this franchise has had since Mike Haynes spent an offseason going around saying Belichick "lies to earn his living" and complaining Mr. Kraft was treating him unfairly. Ty Law's "lies" comments bounced off Belichick like bullets off Superman's chest and Mr. Kraft not only inducted him into his team's Hall of Fame, he was Law's hand-picked presenter when he went into the New England Sports Museum's Hall of Fame. In Foxboro, like in the Corleone Crime Family, it's never personal. Just business. 

If I'm a betting man, I say they franchise Mr. INT and then keep talking about an extension. But that won't happen until the last minute of March 8th. Because that is also how business is done here. That way, they get yet another maximum effort contract year out of him, buy themselves time to find and develop his replacement, and if he blows town in 2023, so be it. They got him for five years at high production for short money, as they have so many others. The Dynasty was built on such players. 

Now if they can just somehow find a corner who can keep up with Stefon Diggs, I'll be happy. 

Billie Weiss. Getty Images.