BOSTON (CBS) -- Here in New England, it's been a very J.C. Jackson-centric offseason thus far. That's to be expected when a player at that level of play is staring free agency in the face.
We still don't know if the Patriots will place the franchise tag on Jackson, sign him to a new deal, or let him depart via free agency. But it's probably worth exploring that last option from the perspective of which players are available in the event that the Patriots try to replace Jackson's play with a free agent.
While the Patriots wouldn't be able to find a player with 17 interceptions over the past two seasons, they may be able to find a player who can replicate Jackson's role in the secondary at a lesser cost. In doing so, they'd allow the likes of Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones to stay in their respective roles and maintain a level of continuity in the defensive backfield.
With that in mind, here's a rather thorough list of the cornerbacks who are set to become free agents.
Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's possible that the Bucs place the franchise tag on Carlton Davis, whom they drafted in the second round in 2018. He dealt with a quad injury 2021, but he was immense for the Bucs during their Super Bowl season in 2020.
Unless the Patriots believe Davis is a much better player than Jackson (a la Stephon Gilmore/Malcolm Butler), then a big-money acquisition like this doesn't seem like a likely road.
Stephon Gilmore, Panthers
Speaking of Stephon Gilmore, and speaking of unlikely scenarios, there is this one.
Gilmore's been tempered when talking about the way things ended in New England, but it does seem as though that professional relationship has officially run its course and won't be revived.
But, Gilmore is a free agent, and he's probably got a couple of more seasons of good football left in him, so he's on the list, even if he's a million-to-one long shot to end up back in Foxboro.
Charvarius Ward, Chiefs
Like Jackson, Charvarius Ward entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2018. Like Jackson, Charvarius Ward is due to get paid this offseason.
Perhaps not on the same level, no. But Ward is set for a big bump from his $3.384 million salary in 2021. (Yes, that's the same salary as Jackson.)
Ward is a solid tackler with strong coverage skills, with 67 total tackles (48 solo), 10 pass defenses and two interceptions in 13 games last season. He also has 54 total tackles (40 solo) with nine pass defenses in 11 playoff games.
Darious Williams, Rams
Another member of the undrafted class of 2018, Williams is fresh off a Super Bowl victory and is ready for a payday after playing 97 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps during his 14 games played last season and 100 percent of their defensive snaps on the Super Bowl run. Williams had four interceptions and 14 pass defenses in 2020, numbers that dropped to zero and nine in 2021. This could hurt his short-term earning power, but he's still considered one of the better corners hitting the market.
Casey Hayward Jr., Raiders
Casey Hayward is on the older end of the cornerback market, with his 33rd birthday set for early September. But his 10 years of NFL experience is surely an asset. He played four seasons for the Packers and five seasons for the Chargers before spending last year with the Raiders. He played in all 17 games, with one interception, nine pass defenses, 46 tackles (39 solo) and a safety.
More of a zone corner, Hayward wouldn't necessarily be a fit in New England, though, barring a shift in philosophy.
Eli Apple, Bengals
The No. 10 overall pick by the Giants in 2016, Apple found himself on the business end of a number of key plays in the 2021 playoffs, including the Super Bowl-winning touchdown reception by Cooper Kupp. As such, fan bases are unlikely to be clamoring for their teams to acquire the corner in free agency.
Still, Apple had 10 pass defenses and a couple of interceptions last season, along with 49 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a fumble recovery. He may not be a No. 1 type, but he'll still earn a bump from his $1 million salary at his next home, wherever that may be.
Steven Nelson, Eagles
Here's an interesting one. Steven Nelson played last year on a one-year, $4 million deal. He led all Eagles by playing 87.2 percent of the team's defensive snaps. He recorded seven pass defenses while making 50 tackles and picking off one pass.
The 29-year-old Nelson played four seasons with the Chiefs and two with the Steelers before his year in Philly, so he certainly has experience in the AFC and might interest the Patriots.
Patrick Peterson, Vikings
At one point, Patrick Peterson had a case as the best cornerback in the NFL. Those days are gone, but the 11-year veteran showed he can still play last year for Minnesota. What's unclear is if he'll be as expensive this year as he was last year, when he got $8 million guaranteed from the Vikings. If not, expect the Patriots to at least consider the 31-year-old. Peterson had one interception and five pass defenses last year.
D.J. Reed, Seahawks
After two seasons primarily as a special teamer in San Francisco, Reed has put forth two solid seasons in Seattle. In 24 games, he's recorded four interceptions and 17 pass defenses, along with three fumble recoveries and 140 tackles (108 solo), two of which went for a loss.
Donte Jackson, Panthers
Since entering the league in 2018, Donte Jackson has averaged 9.5 pass defenses and three interceptions per season for Carolina. He's earned a payday -- not a massive one, but a significant bump from that rookie deal -- in free agency. He may not fit the bill as a J.C. Jackson replacement, but if the Patriots are in need of talent and experience, Jackson could provide some of both.
Also On The List:
Rasul Douglas, Packers
Chris Harris Jr., Chargers
Kevin King, Packers
Xavier Rhodes, Colts
Jason Verrett, 49ers
Ahkello Witherspoon, Steelers
Again, nobody quite knows what Bill Belichick is thinking at any given time. For the time being, in the interest of exploring all options, we can at least see that the team does have some options if it chooses to let Jackson sign for big money elsewhere.
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