NFL Free Agency starts on March 16th at 3:00 p.m. CST
With reports circulating that the Patriots do not intend to use the franchise tag on cornerback J.C. Jackson, it leaves the genuine possibility that one of the elite corners in the game may be primed to hit the open market in just under two weeks.
Jackson, the once undrafted free agent out of the University of Maryland, has played all four years of his pro football career with the New England Patriots. Last April, Jackson signed a second-round free agent tender New England had placed on him worth $3.4 million. Jackson is now set to cash in big this offseason after playing out the one-year deal and earning Pro Bowl honors in 2021.
This article will look at three reasons why the Kansas City Chiefs should sign CB J.C. Jackson should be available come March 16th.
Three: Possible Departures Of Mathieu And Ward
As free agency rapidly approaches, the Chiefs may lose two critical pieces of their secondary to the shopping frenzy that lies ahead. Safety Tyrann Mathieu and corner Charvarius Ward are slated to become unrestricted free agents when March 16th approaches. As Kansas City has other players on expiring contracts needing new deals, it’s no certainty that either Mathieu or Ward will return in 2022.
Tyrann Mathieu has easily been the Chiefs’ best defensive back three years ago since arriving in Kansas City. The honey badger has provided the Chiefs great coverage and leadership on the back end of the secondary throughout his tenure in Kansas City and has quite the set of ballhawk abilities to go along with it, reeling in 13 interceptions in his time with the Chiefs.
Losing the skillset and leadership of Mathieu will take some heavy replacing this offseason if the former All-Pro safety does indeed hit the open market later this month.
Charvarius Ward has been a steady and reliable corner for the Chiefs since being traded from the Cowboys back in 2018. While Ward certainly doesn’t possess the leadership and ballhawk qualities of Mathieu, he has been a vastly underrated player for Kansas City for the last four years.
In 2021 Ward seemed to come into his full potential using his length and size to defend the pass while often going up against the opposing team’s number one receivers. Ward, unfortunately, seemed to get a bad wrap from both fans and media for having one poor game against Ja’Maar’s “Push-off” Chase in Week 17. You take the first Cincy game out of Ward’s season, and it’s difficult to find much of a gripe in Ward’s play throughout the year. The cornerback even managed to match his interceptions total from his previous three years combined, finishing 2021 with two picks.
Pro Football Focus recently named every NFL team’s most improved player in 2021, and Ward was their choice for the Chiefs, seeing a +6.9 PFF grade improvement from 2020 to 2021. Here’s what Anthony Treash of PFF had to say about Ward’s progress:
“Ward was picked on more in 2021 than in any other season of his career — he was targeted on 17.9% of his coverage snaps, the 14th-highest rate among NFL corners. Despite that, Ward held his own and recorded a career-high PFF grade. He generated 0.37 PFF WAR, which ranked 16th among NFL corners and was over seventh-tenths more than his previous career-best.”
If the Chiefs see both Mathieu and Ward depart in free agency, the team will have a massive hole to address in the secondary this offseason. J.C. Jackson would certainly help plug that hole for Kansas City.
Two: Top Class CB’s Rarely Hit The Open Market
Cornerbacks of Jackson’s caliber hardly ever hit the open market in free agency. The last seemingly was former Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore, who went on to sign with the New England Patriots in 2017. Gilmore garnered a five-year $65 million contract with the Patriots five years ago. Jackson will unquestionably command even more this offseason, with the NFL cap number being at an all-time high of $208 million in 2022.
Since entering the league, J.C. Jackson has been an absolute ballhawk, totaling a whopping 25 interceptions through the first four years of his young career. For reference, 3X All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey has 15 interceptions through the first six years of his career. Future hall of fame CB Darrelle Revis finished his illustrious 11-year career with 29 interceptions, just four more than Jackson has currently.
Adding Jackson to the Chiefs’ secondary would be huge for a defense looking to garner more turnovers next season after finishing 12th in the NFL in interceptions in 2021. Kansas City’s defense pulled in 16 interceptions as a team last season, while Jackson snagged half of that all by himself over in New England.
PFF graded J.C. Jackson as the second-best cornerback in single coverage in 2021, grading just slightly lower than Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. If the Chiefs were to sign Jackson, he would give Kansas City a true lockdown corner with the ability to disable an opposing team’s top receiver, which could prove instrumental in the Chiefs’ quest for another Super Bowl title next season where they’ll likely have to go through the likes of Ja’Maar Chase, Stefon Diggs, AJ Brown, etc. to get there.
Jackson would immediately come into Kansas City and be the team’s best defensive back in coverage, regardless of whether Tyrann Mathieu is part of that DB room in 2022 or not. The current Patriots corner gives the Chiefs a talent the team has lacked in the secondary for quite some time.
One: J.C. Jackson, Sneed, And Fenton Would Be An Elite Trio
Just think about this for a moment, J.C. Jackson, L’Jarius Sneed, and Rashad Fenton as the Chiefs’ top three cornerbacks next season… You can’t tell me that doesn’t give you goosebumps at the thought of that. Running out that trio in 2022 would give Kansas City arguably the best CB room in the entire NFL and hinder opposing teams in the passing game, especially those that lack an abundance of weapons.
We already spent the entirety of the last section talking about what J.C. Jackson brings to the table. Still, it should be emphasized how great an addition Jackson would be to Kansas City’s secondary. He would not only bring excellent lockdown corner ability but tremendous ball-hawking ability to the Chiefs’ defense. Jackson would give Kansas City the ability to line Sneed up against the opposing team’s number two receivers and Fenton against the number three’s, should Spags choose to play it that way. How brutal would that be for offensive coordinators to game plan around? Whew.
Okay, now let’s take a look at L’Jarius Sneed. The safety turned cornerback out of Louisana Tech has proved to be a tremendous steal for the Chiefs after selecting Sneed in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. L’Jarius was great in his rookie year (ranked PFF’s best rookie CB), but he continued to build off that success in 2021, establishing himself as a future star in the NFL.
Although we didn’t hear Sneed’s name as much this past season, that’s partly because the corner was hardly thrown at compared to the previous season. Sneed was targeted on 24.7% of his snaps in 2020, but that number significantly dropped in 2021 as Sneed’s target rate dropped to 16.5%. Sneed also proved he could go head-to-head with top-tier wide receivers, holding Devante Adams and Ja’Maar Chase (AFC title game) to some of their worst games statistically all season.
Lastly, we have the sixth-round cornerback out of the University of South Carolina, Rashad Fenton. Fenton very well may be the most underrated CB in the NFL, exhibiting three extremely solid seasons for the Chiefs since coming into the league.
2021 however, may have been Fenton’s breakout year, as he finally caught the eye of the media and had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in the league. At the end of December, the Chiefs’ CB had the best PFF grade (82.3) of any corner and the best coverage grade (81.8) of any DB in the AFC. Fenton also landed behind only Chris Jones as the Chiefs’ highest-ranked defender of the 2021 season, a ginormous feat for a former sixth-round selection.
Unfortunately for Fenton, he failed to make the Pro Bowl and is just further proof why the end-of-season exhibition game is such a joke.
The Moral of the point here is that a trio of Jackson, Sneed, and Fenton would provide the clamps for the Chiefs’ defense to leap back among the league’s elites in 2022.
Should the Chiefs sign J.C. Jackson this offseason? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.
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