The New England Patriots have a long list of players set to become free agents in March, but none are more important than J.C. Jackson.
The 26-year-old cornerback tallied eight interceptions and 23 passes defended in 2021. The Pro Bowl season followed a breakout 2020 campaign in which he finished second in the NFL with nine picks.
With Stephon Gilmore out of the picture in 2021, Jackson took over as the clear top dog in the Patriots' secondary. Now, it may be time to pay him like it.
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Bill Belichick and Co. have a big decision to make this offseason. Do they pay up for Jackson, or do they move on and let someone else back up the Brink's truck? Former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum joined Phil Perry on a new episode of the Next Pats Podcast to share his take.
Next Pats Podcast: Mike Tannenbaum on J.C. Jackson: Patriots “GOTTA keep him” | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube
"You gotta keep him," Tannenbaum said. "He turns the ball over. You pay a premium for that. Obviously, they let Stephon Gilmore go. He can play elite man-to-man, he has good feet. But more importantly, he has ball skills and to me, that's very important as you talk about who to pay and who not to pay.
"So, you let one go, you keep this one, and you just keep drafting and developing. Coach Belichick, he has a great eye for these down-the-line guys going back to the Malcolm Butlers of the world. ... You don't pay them all, but J.C. Jackson to me is one that you do pay."
Also discussed in this episode: Tannenbaum on what we learned about team building from the Super Bowl. Why have the Patriots had struggles finding talent at WR in the draft? Which players on the current Patriots roster can make “explosive” plays? And how will the possible “cap explosion” impact how teams handle their finances?
Check out the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network, or watch on YouTube below: