NFL Analyst Identifies Free Agent Who Patriots ‘Must’ Retain

New England has 14 players headed for unrestricted free agency

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February 21, 2022

The New England Patriots have a handful of players who will hit the open market when the new NFL year begins next month.

This list includes players who bring great leadership in addition to on-field effectiveness, such as Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and James White. A few starters and significant role players — Dont’a Hightower, Trent Brown, Jamie Collins and Ted Karras — are ticketed for free agency as well.

But if Bill Belichick and company had to prioritize one impending free agent to hold onto this offseason, NFL analyst Gil Brandt believes it should be New England’s top cornerback, J.C. Jackson.

“Last year, the Patriots went on an unexpected spending spree to bring free agents to town,” Brandt wrote for NFL.com. “This year, they should open the purse strings to keep Jackson from leaving. New England’s first post-Tom Brady trip to the playoffs was driven in large part by its defense, which ranked second against the pass, fourth overall and second in points allowed. Retaining the 26-year-old Jackson, who finished third in targeted EPA (-27.1, among those with a minimum of 20 targets, per NGS) and second in interceptions (eight) would go a long way toward preserving that strength.”

It should be noted the Patriots don’t have to issue a long-term deal to Jackson in the coming months in order to lock down his services for the 2022 season. The 2021 Pro Bowl selection feels like a prime candidate for New England’s franchise tag.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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