Should William Jackson III be the NFL’s highest paid cornerback?
Xavien Howard’s contract extension with the Miami Dolphins earlier this offseason made him the NFL’s highest paid cornerback. The move put into focus the looming contract negotiations between the Bengals and their top corner William Jackson III.
Drafted in the same year as Howard, the Bengals moved to activate first-rounder Jackson’s fifth year option. This course of action was not available to the Dolphins. It gives Cincinnati breathing room as they prioritize new deals for receivers AJ Green and Tyler Boyd.
Still, the Howard deal does provide a solid base for contract negotiations for a player like Jackson. It is front loaded with several outs for the Dolphins after year three. At this stage in Jackson’s career that type of flexibility would be attractive.
Jackson was a one year starter in college. He missed his rookie year in the NFL due to injury before having a stunning 2017 and an average 2018. He would command big money on the open market, but the Bengals may want to sit on their hands before making him the highest paid player at his position.
Making a splash
Jackson made significant noise as soon as he saw the field after missing his rookie season. He posted great stats in 2017 as partially seen below in a tweet from Pro Football Focus.
He showed great ability to shutdown top receivers like Antonio Brown of the Steelers. In Weeks 7 and 13, Brown had zero receptions against Jackson on eight targets.
Jackson also displayed great instincts, ability to track receivers closely, and maintained the ability to break on routes. This is all highlighted perfectly in the interception in Green Bay shown below from NFL Game Pass.
Second year regression
It’s unfair to suggest Jackson had a poor 2018, but his production certainly took a step back. Most of that comes from the fact that the whole defensive unit was a disaster in 2018. It was 28th in sacks while ranking the same in Football Outsiders DVOA, which evaluates the overall efficiency of the unit.
Jackson found himself against the top receivers. This including the high powered offenses of Atlanta, New Orleans and Kansas City in their out of division matchups. Being shutout of the interception column last year is certainly a concern for a top end corner.
However, he still posted a decent PFF grade of 72.9 in coverage and found himself in Mike Renner’s top 25 cornerbacks of 2018, coming in at number 22 and only allowing 38 receptions on the season.
Projecting forward for 2019
The Bengals defense was in desperate need for an overhaul and that is exactly what should happen with new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. His history as a defensive backs coach could help Jackson prove he is an upper echelon corner. Anarumo’s defensive backfield with the Giants ranked in the top 10 for interceptions in 2018.
Carl Lawson’s return from injury, combined with a greater scheme focus on blitzing should force opposing quarterbacks to hurry decisions. Too often last season, they were given forever and a day in the pocket. This made it difficult for the backend of the defense to maintain coverage assignments.
Having the fifth year option in place means the Bengals can wait for the 2019 season to play out before seriously exploring a Jackson extension. However, there is a train of thought that offering a deal now could be the most effective strategy.
So far, Howard’s deal is the only one that would truly give Jackson a guide for his own negotiations. That deal is fairly agreeable for the Dolphins. Despite paying Howard over $15 million a year, the structure effectively offers some protection for Howard’s up and down play.
With Jackson having a breakout sophomore campaign and an average third year, a similar structure could be agreeable for both sides.
Waiting until next offseason on Jackson means the Bengals can secure Green and Boyd now. Also, Cincinnati could move on from Andy Dalton by then, giving them further cap space. The downside is that the cornerback market could explode in 2020.
Young talents like Trae Waynes, Byron Jones and Jalen Ramsey will be seeking new deals, along with veterans like Darius Slay and Janoris Jenkins. Those players are much more likely to reset the market in a way that Howard’s deal did not. If they do, then the going rate for a shutdown corner could be significantly more.
Should Jackson rediscover his 2017 form it would be difficult to argue that he shouldn’t become the NFL’s highest paid cornerback. A price the Bengals will undoubtedly see worthwhile as they seek to secure the future of their secondary.