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Raiders free agency: One particular Patriot

Zielger, McDaniels should chase and land cornerback J.C. Jackson

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If Josh McDaniels and Dave Zielger are looking to deploy a man-scheme defense in Las Vegas, free agent J.C. Jackson would be an ideal fit for the Raiders.

Six long seasons. That’s the gap in time since the Raiders showcased a takeaway artist in the secondary. And they went from calling Oakland to Las Vegas home in that span, too.

Safeties Charles Woodson (2015) and Reggie Nelson (2016) snared five interceptions apiece in those two seasons. Add in cornerback David Amerson (2015) who picked off four passes, and the Silver & Black haven’t had a defensive back haul in more than three interceptions since.

The Las Vegas Raiders are in desperate need of a stingy defensive back — especially at corner. Fortunately for the interception-famished Raiders, there’s one in particular takeaway artist that’s not only slated to hit the free agent market but a very familiar face to the team’s new power structure: New England’s J.C. Jackson. Not only should Jerald Christopher Jackson catch new Vegas general manager Dave Ziegler’s and new head coach Josh McDaniels’ eye, the duo should chase him this offseason and try to get him to suit up in the desert.

Dig it: Jackson played in and started all 17 games for the Patriots and intercepted a total of eight passes. He was targeted 106 times and allowed 52 receptions (49.1 percent completion rate) while allowing a trio of touchdowns in coverage in 2021. In comparison, the Raiders as an entire unit, managed a meager six team interceptions in 2021. Six! The 26-year-old Jackson by himself, had two more picks than Vegas had as an entire group.

The Raiders lack of takeaways from the secondary is a longstanding issue that must be resolved if both Ziegler and McDaniels want to replicate the strong defenses that New England fielded. Going back to Amerson’s 2015 season and Gareon Conley’s three in 2018, interceptions among Raiders cornerbacks aren’t commonplace. This past season, Casey Hayward, Brandon Facyson, Trayvon Mullen and Nate Hobbs (rookie) each got one pick. Safeties Johanthan Abram and Tre’von Moehrig (rookie) were the other two defenders who each intercepted passes to account for all six of Vegas’ picks in 2021.

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
David Amerson (29) was the last Raiders cornerback to have more than three interceptions with four during the 2015 season.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Getting Jackson in the secondary would go a long way to resolving the drought of interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Maryland product was an excellent undrafted free agent find for New England in 2018. The Patriots took a chance on Jackson — dismissed from the University of Florida in 2015 for a robbery he was found not guilty of — and the team was rewarded handsomely. Assimilating well to the physical press coverage New England deploys, Jackson picked off three passes his rookie season in 2018. He snared five more the following year and nine in 2020. In his four seasons as a Patriot, Jackson’s interception tally sits at an impressive 25 (one pick six).

“It be like that, man,” said Jackson of going undrafted back in 2018. “Every year somebody who didn’t get drafted and next thing you know he’s one of the top players in the league. I tell people all the time, it don’t matter if you get drafted, you go undrafted, you go first pick. None of that matters. It’s about what you do when you get there and that’s what I did.”

No matter the scheme McDaniels deploys as the Raiders head honcho, Jackson is a prime fit. He’s accustomed the bump-and-run coverage and all forms of zone dating back to his pro and college days. He also has the requisite speed (running a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) to matchup with some of the most fleet-footed receivers in the game. He’s developed into a true No. 1 cornerback, something Las Vegas doesn’t truly have — yet.

Hayward, the team’s top corner in 2021, is an unrestricted free agent, as is Facyson. Mullen, a promising young corner, has the skillset and tools to be a top corner but injuries have limited his availability. Hobbs can play outside, but is better suited as a slot/nickel corner due to his tackling ability. Hence, the Raiders should be in play for Jackson.

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
Both Casey Hayward (29) and Brandon Facyson (35), who started at cornerback for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, are both unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

But, so will New England — and likely the vast majority of the teams in the league.

“This is a place that brought me in and gave me a chance from day one,” Jackson said iof the Patriots this past December. “I would love to be a New England Patriot for a long time.”

If anything, the Raiders can bank on Ziegler and McDaniels being familiar to Jackson to potentially bump up the line of potential suitors. The team also is slated to have ample cap space. And Jackson would be wise to see what the market sets for his services. But New England does have options if they aren’t keen to sign Jackson to a long-term deal or allowing him to walk in free agency. Namely, the team can hit Jackson with the franchise tag, which will be about a $17 to $18 million 1-year contract. From there, the Patriots could trade him. That would net New England draft picks and maybe another player in exchange for the talented cornerback.

Looking at the top 10 cornerback contracts in the league, according to OverTheCap, the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey sits atop the group with a $100 million contract that averages $20 million per season. The Bengals’ Trae Waynes rounds out the group with a $42 million deal that pays an average of $14 million. At his age and production, it’s highly conceivable for Jackson to end up in the top five of that list. Currently, the Dolphins’ Xavien Howard is fifth with a deal worth $72.25 million that averages $15.05 million per season.

A word of caution though: Ziegler and McDaniels did plenty of learning under the Bill Belichick tree, and the Patriots head man isn’t know to spend big or give players large sums of money on second contracts.

Either way, Jackson is slated to be paid. And why not in Vegas? The Raiders are a team with a need at cornerback. And Jackson represents the best that’ll potentially hit the market. New GM, new head coach in tow, why not roll the dice and try to hit the jackpot with Jackson?

The Raiders used to field a cornerback that could shut down one side of the field in Woodson in his youth and Nnamdi Asomugha after him. Jackson would most definitely carry on that same tradition.