Let’s be clear, this will only happen if J.C. Jackson makes it to market. The New England Patriots have until March 8th to decide if they want to place the franchise-tag on their superstar cornerback, effectively ending his chance to enter free-agency.
With all signs pointing towards Jackson becoming an unrestricted free-agent, the first hurdle is cleared.
As far as Miami goes, there’s the obvious question as to why, with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones currently under contract, the Dolphins would consider this. The cornerback room is easily their most talented, and it’s safe to assume they’ll be returning Nik Needham (RFA) to that group as well.
Shockingly, Miami most likely saves money by moving on from Byron Jones, and signing the pricier Jackson.
Releasing Jones out-right, there will be a dead-cap hit of about $12.3 million dollars. With Jones slated to earn roughly $16.5 million, there’s still over $4 million in cap savings. That’s step one, consider Jackson makes it to market, and signs with the Dolphins.
Interestingly enough, there will be little change in the Dolphin’s spending power by making the upgrade from Jones to J.C. Jackson, when taking into account the structure of the deal.
It’s well known, that GM Chris Grier is working with Xavien Howards camp to fulfill his “promise” of reworking the Pro Bowl corner’s deal. While an increase to his salary does affect the Dolphin’s cap, some creative structuring of contracts makes it a moot point, at least in the interim.
Chris Grier could decide to structure Jackson’s deal, so that the impact of it, is on the back-end. In a sense, the cap-hit is at its most, right about the time Howard’s is ending. That can offset a huge chunk of the damage that having two top-tier priced cornerbacks can make.
Xavien Howard will be 29 at the start of the 2022 season. While he’s still on the right side of 30, he’s not far off. There’s also the fear that Howard, who’s been relatively healthy in consecutive seasons, could see his early-career knees issues return.
Knowing Howard, who’s been the best player on the Dolphin’s roster for the majority of his career, will eventually need to be replaced, signing J.C. Jackson makes sense.
Jackson (26) hasn’t missed a game in the past three seasons, and is just entering the prime of his career. There’s also not a more comparable player to Howard, in terms of skill set and production.
Both are considered to be the top-2 corners in the NFL in playmaking ability (no disrespect to Trevon Diggs’ season). Howard (27 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 71 pass deflections, in 27 career games) and Jackson (25/1/53 in 62 games played) are two players that are constantly around the ball and creating turnovers. Both Howard and Jackson excel in man-coverage.
The Miami Dolphins already posses one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL; certainly the most expensive. Upgrading from one of the best cover corners, to one that also creates turnover opportunities, could arguably provide the Dolphins with the most dangerous defensive-secondary of the entire century.
The Dolphins have emphasized their desire to maintain their defensive unit and scheme, under Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer. The scheme, filled with disguises and manufactured pressure, relies on having corners that won’t allow big plays. Its overwhelming success is mostly attributed to the uncomfortable situations it places on opposing quarterbacks.
If pass rushers don’t get the sack, the pressure and confusion they create cause quarterbacks into the uncomfortable positions of forcing passes and making mistakes. Having two cornerbacks that can capitalize off those mistakes, or force the passer to limit their throws to the middle of the field, provides a unit that’ll be nearly impossible to beat.
That’s not mentioning the ascension of Safeties Javon Holland, who turned in one of the best seasons in the NFL as a rookie, and Brandon Jones (5 sacks). Nik Needham, a playmaker in his own right, is as consistent as anyone and continues to improve.
This is not an idea randomly formulated, but a surprising story coming at the end of the NFL Combine. Largely considered the arbiter of backroom deals and handshake agreements, it’s common for free-agent rumors to start leaking from the Scouting Combine. While there’s many motivations for an agent or team to leak information that may better their leverage, this has a bit of an authentic feel.
Cornerback was not a position that was expected to be heavily considered by the Dolphins, so using them to strengthen the market, seems less than obvious. The way the information is coming out, very casually, rather than the in-your-face narratives often used to manipulate leverage, is noteworthy.
Analyzing the angles of a potential J.C. Jackson signing, the logic becomes irrefutable. It starts feeling more like a “will”, then a “might”.
Plus, Chris Grier is usually good for a surprise, or two.
Surely Dolphin fans would love to celebrate another Floridian, finding their way home.