Patriots release CB J.C. Jackson and reach over $100M in salary-cap space, most in NFL

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 26: J.C. Jackson #29 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
J.C. Jackson was released by the New England Patriots. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots cut cornerback J.C. Jackson on Friday, giving them the most salary-cap space in the NFL for the first offseason of the post-Bill Belichick era.

Jackson, 28, returned to the Patriots this past October in a trade from the Los Angeles Chargers. He previously joined the team as a rookie out of Maryland in 2018. He and the Patriots won a Super Bowl that season, and he went on to spend his first four NFL campaigns with New England. His eight interceptions were good for second-most in the league in 2021, resulting in a Pro Bowl nod.

The Chargers acquired Jackson as a free agent in March 2022, signing him to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Jackson's first season in Los Angeles saw him play in only seven games due to injuries. In his second and final season with the team, he recorded the worst stats of his career and was benched for the last two games.

The deal for Jackson's return to New England came after cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who the Patriots had selected as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. The Chargers shouldered some of Jackson's contract in the deal to trade him back to the Patriots, which included a 2025 sixth-seven-round draft pick swap. He and the Patriots reworked his 2023 contract to ease costs for the organization, giving him a $2 million base salary.

New England won't suffer any dead cap hit now that Jackson is released. It was an expected move, as his base salaries from 2024 to '26 increased to around $12 million. Cutting him created about $13.5 million in cap space, and the Patriots now have $101.6 million in wiggle room, according to Over The Cap. That figure puts New England ahead of the Washington Commanders' estimated $91.5 million in space.

New England also has the third overall pick of the upcoming NFL Draft, combining with the cap space to create an ideal situation for head coach Jerod Mayo. The rookie head coach has a defensive background, which will be beneficial as the team looks to fill holes on both sides of the ball. A quarterback to lead the franchise will be the Patriots' top offseason priority, however, and the team stands to potentially land Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels. New England is also wide receiver needy — which shouldn't present an issue, as there's plenty of extra money for the Patriots to court new and improved players.