Within the New England Patriots fanbase, we are all pretty well versed in what JC Jackson brings to the team. However, it is possible that living in Stephon Gilmore’s shadow has shied his ability away from all the other fanbases. Beat writers and media professionals have all recognized his elite ability, but it’s time for everybody to start giving JC Jackson the respect he deserves.
Last week’s game against the Miami Dolphins was another example of what JC Jackson does day in and day out for the Patriots. Recording two tackles and an interception, while helping in the run game, is just another day in the office for Jackson. Everybody knew that Jackson was a steal when Belichick signed him as an undrafted free agent. Jackson fell due to his off-field issues, but since making his debut, he has been nothing but professional.
A story broke right before the game last Sunday that Bill Belichick was shopping Stephon Gilmore during the Draft and during training camp. This may seem like another example of Belichick moving on from a high priced veteran too early, but that didn’t really have anything to do with it. The Patriots were strapped for cash. With $20 Million in deadcap, there was a point this offseason that the Patriots didn’t even have the cap space to pay their draft picks. Belichick moving on from Gilmore was strictly financial, but I would argue that Jackson made the decision to shop Gilmore a little bit easier, because Jackson could easily have stepped into that number one role and had the same success as Gilmore.
Thankfully, the Patriots won a couple of cases against Antonio Brown and the infamous Aaron Hernandez and were able to put some money in the well. Then Patrick Chung, Dont’a Hightower, and Marcus Cannon opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 virus and deferred their contracts to the 2021 season, allowing Belichick not just to keep Gilmore, but to also give him a $5 million raise.
Having Gilmore and Jackson on the same team is obviously more ideal than only having one of them, but I would have felt comfortable with Jackson leading the way. The Patriots have a stacked secondary outside of Jackson and Gilmore that includes Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and Joejuan Williams, and though I feel stupid just for saying this, the Patriots could have survived this season without Gilmore.
Since entering the league in 2018, Jackson has led the league in a lot of different categories. According to Pro Football Focus, for the past two seasons, JC Jackson has lead the league in Quarterback Ratings when he is being targeted. According to SB Nation, Jackson had a phenomenal sophomore year. In 2019 he was targeted 57 times and only surrendered 22 catches for 208 yards and zero touchdowns. He also finished last season with six pass breakups and five interceptions. NFL Next Gen stats also ranked Jackson as the second best cornerback in the NFL in 2019, only behind his Patriots teammate and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore.
There have been some rumblings that this could be Jackson's final year in New England. This is the final year of his rookie deal and he’s set to earn $750,00, by far the biggest team-friendly contract in the NFL. It is perhaps an even bigger steal than the Kansas City Chiefs paying Patrick Mahomes $10 million in 2020. But Bill Belichick loves JC Jackson, in fact, I’m willing to bet right now that we could see Gilmore on the move next season in order for Belichick to move forward with JC Jackson. I know that’s a bold statement, but it’s not that crazy when you really think about it.
Jackson was given the game-ball last Sunday after the Patriots win over Miami. After this gesture of good faith, Belichick also did something very un-Belichick like, and heaped praise on Jackson during his post-game press conference.
“I really take my hat off to J.C., I thought J.C. really competed well today. He showed a lot of mental toughness and a real competitiveness of the game, and then for him to make that play at the end just sealed the win, along with the run that we had there to get the first down to run out the clock. But the interception that J.C. had in the end zone, I thought he showed a lot of mental toughness and a high level of competitiveness in today’s game. So, I just wanted to personally congratulate him for that because that was good.”
If Belichick would have shown this same admiration for Tom Brady, perhaps Jeff Benedict’s book The Dynasty wouldn’t have been so interesting, but that’s a different story altogether.
Jackson has been very impressive since he entered the league in 2018, he started 2020 where he left off in 2019: playing at elite levels. If other fanbases aren’t taking notice yet, they need to pull their heads out of the sand and start respecting one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.