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For Bill Belichick and the Patriots, there have been three different kinds of tag

J.C. Jackson was mobbed by his teammates after his interception against the Bufalo Bills in 2020.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

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It’s franchise tag time, and with a sizable class of free agents, the Patriots have no shortage of possibilities. But given the state of the roster — and the marketplace — the name that keeps popping up is cornerback J.C. Jackson.

By any measure, the 26-year-old Jackson is an elite corner who has become one of the best in the league at his position. He led New England with eight interceptions last season, and he has 25 picks in his four years with the Patriots, tying the NFL record for the most interceptions in a players’ first four seasons in the league. As a result, it’s no surprise he stands ready to get paid handsomely between now and the start of next season, either by the Patriots or by someone else.

If Jackson is tagged, he’d land a one-year payday in the neighborhood of $17 million. If he goes elsewhere, he could end up with more. (By way of comparison, Jalen Ramsey’s five-year deal worth $100 million — which included $25 million guaranteed — remains the top of the mountain when it comes to cornerbacks.)


Considering the state of the New England secondary and the projected marketplace for cornerbacks, Jackson’s situation represent the first major personnel crossroads of the offseason for New England.

Can history provide some insight when it comes to the Patriots and the franchise tag, and how it all might connect to the Pro Bowl corner? New England has used the franchise tag 10 times under Bill Belichick, and all 10 cases have fallen into one of three categories.

The Patriots franchised Vince Wilfork in 2010 before agreeing to a deal.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Placeholder: The team and the player are talking, and things seem to be going (relatively) well when it comes to making progress on a new deal. However, the end of the window is looming, and so the tag is used as a temporary stopover on the way to a new deal.


The most notable case here was Vince Wilfork in 2010; after a sour 2009, it was believed the veteran was headed elsewhere. However, both sides came together that offseason, and he signed a five-year, $40 million deal after the $7 million franchise tag was applied earlier that offseason. In addition, in 2002, Adam Vinatieri’s first franchise tag experience led to a three-year, $5.4 contract, and Stephen Gostkowski turned a $4.1 million tag hit in 2015 into a four-year, $17.2 million contract extension he signed just before training camp in July 2015.

The one wrinkle? This can occasionally take longer than expected. When Logan Mankins was franchised in February 2011 to the tune of $10.1 million, the occasionally flinty offensive lineman didn’t agree to a six-year, $51 million contract until August.

Despite the fact that the negotiating process usually commences at the combine, the fact Jackson said no one had yet reached out to him probably doesn’t bode well. In that context, it’s important to remember that things can be pretty fluid: On Jan. 27, 2010, Wilfork called the franchise tag “a slap in the face.” On March 5, 2010, after a deal had been struck, he Tweeted, “We are pleased to say we will be here for MANY more years to come.”

After being franchised by the Patriots in 2009, Matt Cassel was traded to Kansas City.Reed Hoffmann

The Precursor: In this case, the tag has been followed by a trade. Admittedly, these sorts of cases are rare, but they’re worth including for the purposes of this exercise. Defensive back Tebucky Jones (2003) and quarterback Matt Cassel (2009) were both tagged and traded in the same offseason, with Jones going to New Orleans and Cassel to Kansas City.


Could the Patriots go this route this offseason? While anything is possible, given the market and the pending free agents, it seems unlikely.

The One (more) and Done: These are individuals who were a little irked to be hit with the tag; all of the players in this category were among the best in the league at their position at the time, and all could have gotten a more sizable deal on the open market when they were tagged. But they all played (and played well) for New England the following season before becoming free agents and signing elsewhere. Vinatieri (2005), Asante Samuel (2007), Wes Welker (2012), and Joe Thuney (2020) all fall into this category.

The Patriots held on to Joe Thuney for one more year in 2020.Jim Davis

Samuel, in particular, was clearly done with New England. A year after being hit with the tag, the cornerback was holding his introductory press conference in Philadelphia less than 36 hours after the start of free agency, celebrating a new six-year, $56 million deal with the Eagles.

It’s easy to draw a parallel with Samuel — high-end cornerbacks at the top of their respective games looking to maximize their earning potential, which means either the first or third option. In this situation, a tag might represent the best possible option for all parties. Even if it’s a temporary situation, it could lead to a long-term deal like it did with Wilfork while allowing the Patriots to spend a year assessing the cornerback market, either in the draft or free agency, in hopes of finding a replacement.


So which category will Jackson ultimately fall into? It’s the first major team-building question of the offseason for New England, and could very well set the tone for what promises to be an eventful offseason in Foxborough.

Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.