During the 2022 offseason, fans wanted the Pittsburgh Steelers to make a splash in free agency. I was one of them. One of the biggest names on the market was Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback, J.C. Jackson. Quietly one of the best CBs in the league, Jackson earned an astounding 25 interceptions in his four seasons in New England -- a whopping 17 of them came from 2020 to 2021.
Jackson ended up signing a lucrative five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers during the 2022 offseason. However, just a few games into his second season in LA, the team has decided to move on from him.
The official NFL twitter account confirmed that Jackson is being traded. He will head back to New England were it all began for him.
The cost is extremely cheap for the Patriots, as they acquire Jackson via trade involving late-round pick swaps. The Patriots are sending a 2025 6th-round pick to the Chargers for Jackson and a 2025 7th-round pick. Soon after the trade, we discovered that New England's first-round cornerback, Christian Gonzalez, is having season-ending surgery.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the Steelers cornerback situation has been abysmal so far. The combination of Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson has been disastrous through the first four games and both cornerbacks have been picked on routinely.
Despite all of this, the Steelers did not 'miss out' on trading for J.C. Jackson. In fact, they were wise to avoid the veteran cornerback.
Steelers wise to avoid trade for J.C. Jackson
It's not that the Steelers were even interested in trading for Jackson early in 2023. There hasn't been so much as a whisper of that happening. But even if they were interested, it's a good thing they weren't the team to pull the trigger.
While Jackson has been outstanding in the past with some of the best ball skills at the position in the NFL, he's not the type of player they need. Already, the Steelers have a pair of unathletic cornerbacks starting on their team. Wallace came into the league as a poor athlete and Peterson is one of the oldest starting CBs in the NFL right now. In the slot, a combination of Chandon Sullivan and Desmond King isn't any better.
Jackson is a very average athlete who has noticeably lost a step over the years. Though the Chargers are forced to pay his guaranteed money, the veteran cornerback still has a base salary of at least $12 million each year from now all the way through 2026.
If Jackson was playing like he did on his rookie contract in New England, this wouldn't be an issue. However, the sample of play we have seen in his brief stint with the Chargers has been horrific. While Jackson has only started and played 7 games over the past two years, he earned a 28.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2022. This year, he has a grade of just 48.2 so far -- good for 97th in the NFL among 109 qualifying cornerbacks.
The tape matches the play, as LA's secondary has been gashed through the air. In just two games played, Jackson has already been credited for giving up 118 yards and a touchdown, per Pro Football Reference.
One thing that could certainly be working against him is his size. Though some outlets have him listed at 6'1'', Jackson actually only measured at 5'9 3/4'' at the 2018 NFL Combine, and he doesn't have the elite athletic traits or closing speed to make up for his lack of size and length as a boundary cornerback.
Jackson is also an older CB who turns 28 in November, and the Steelers need more youth and speed at the position. Joey Porter Jr. has shown a lot of promise in the snaps that he has played so far, but the team has been reluctant to call him up for a bigger role. Adding J.C. Jackson would have only made the defense smaller and slower.
Jackson was once a phenomenal football player and difference-maker for the New England Patriots, but that ship has sailed. The Pittsburgh Steelers need cornerback help desperately and there's nobody who offers upside outside of Joey Porter Jr. However, a trade for J.C. Jackson would have only amplified the problems they are already having in the secondary.