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J.C. Jackson Released; Patriots Over $100 Million in Cap Space

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New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson

In an expected move, the New England Patriots released cornerback J.C. Jackson on Friday. New England had reacquired Jackson during the 2023 season, with the Los Angeles Chargers accounting for nearly all of his 2023 salary. He would have been due a $2 million roster bonus at the end of the NFL league year (March 16) and his 2024 cap number was set to be more than $14 million.

With the move, New England has over $100 million in salary cap space heading into free agency.

Mental Health Issues

When the New England Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15, there was a notable absence. Patriots starting cornerback J.C. Jackson was not on the injury or inactive reports. However, Jackson was nowhere to be found during or after the game.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported that the reason for Jackson not playing was neither physical nor disciplinary. Per J.C. Jackson’s agent, the player was dealing with a mental health issue.

The term “mental health” is a broad brush, which can cover a variety of issues. It is unfair to speculate about what specifically Jackson was dealing with. It serves as another reminder that some things are far bigger than the game of football. New England placed Jackson on the reserve/non-football injury list, where he would remain for the remainder of the 2023 season.

First Stint in New England

J.C. Jackson signed with New England as a UDFA following the 2018 NFL Draft. He became a Super Bowl champion as an NFL rookie. His role continued to grow over the next three seasons. In 2020 he was very good. In 2021, J.C. Jackson was great.

Jackson was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2021 and was named second-team All-Pro. He led the NFL with 23 passes defended. After his nine-interception campaign in 2020, In his four seasons with New England, Jackson improved each year. The star cornerback peaked at the right time, set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2021 season.

Moving to Los Angeles

Following the 2021 season, the Chargers signed the top defensive free agent, J.C. Jackson, to a massive deal. The former Patriot headed to L.A. with a five-year, $82.5 million contract. But his first season in L.A. was over after just five games when Jackson suffered a ruptured patella tendon. He’d miss the rest of the 2022 season. The high-priced free agent known for interceptions finished his first season in Los Angeles with zero.

Although Jackson’s season was not going great pre-injury, it is tough to evaluate a five-year contract after only five games. 2023 would allow Jackson to prove himself worthy of his big paycheck. Jackson played in the first two games of 2023 and had one interception. But he did not play in the next two games for the Chargers. He was then traded back to the Patriots. Jackson stated he was confused as to why he had been inactive. He acknowledged not being 100% healthy but felt healthy enough to play.

Chargers GM Tom Telesco reportedly apologized to the team following Jackson’s departure. He deemed the signing “a mistake.”

Return to Foxboro

Jackson’s performance both on and off the field after coming back to New England was up and down. He played in his first five games after returning. But in that fifth game, against Washington, he was benched to start the game. It was later reported that it was due to disciplinary issues. Jackson reportedly missed curfew, and to his credit took full responsibility for his mistake.

He was left home for the team’s trip to Germany to play the Colts. Jackson returned to the lineup to play in the next three games, before Sunday. There is no indication at this time of his availability for the final three games of New England’s season.

Matthew Slater Spoke About J.C. Jackson

Team captain Matthew Slater addressed the subject of Jacksoon’s mental health struggles following that Week 15 game against Kansas City. To nobody’s surprise, Slater was both articulate and compassionate in his comment for Jackson.

“So often times with athletes, we’re put on this pedestal. Like we’ve got everything together and our personal lives are great and we’re role models etc. But we’re human beings just like everybody else and we struggle with a number of different things; in our personal lives and professional lives. They affect us all differently.

“I love him. I’ve always been very fond of him since he first got here years ago. And I want nothing but the best for him. I think if you ask anyone in our locker room that same question, they’ll tell you the same thing: we care about his well-being as a human being, first and foremost. We want to see him be healthy, both physically and mentally. We want to see him be successful.”

Slater continued, “And all that is with football aside. We put such a heavy emphasis on football, and rightfully so, it’s our job. But it’s not the ultimate. It’s an important thing but it’s not the ultimate thing. For Jerald (J.C. Jackson) I hope he hears and understands and knows, that for us, we just want to see him be well. That’s the most important thing.”

Possible Return in 2024

The most important aspect of J.C. Jackson’s life is getting his mental health situation under control. Hopefully, the time away from football helped him get the help he needed. The New England Patriots were going to be releasing him before the beginning of the league year from a business standpoint regardless. His play had not warranted the type of financial commitment that the team would be giving otherwise. In addition, the Patriots have too many holes in the roster at the moment to have so much tied into Jackson at this stage. However, if the cornerback is doing well mentally and wants to return to football, New England would likely have an interest in bringing him back for a more team-friendly deal.

The hope here is that J.C. Jackson is going well, wherever his next home may be.

 

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports, MLB.com, and many other outlets.

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