William Jackson had a solid 2020 campaign, and for the third straight year he is the best cornerback the Bengals have.
While the cornerbacks around him were dropping like flies, Jackson put together 14 games, 11 passes defended and an interception. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 71.4, which was a huge step up from his 51.3 last season.
His best year, according to PFF, was his rookie season in 2017. He was a first round pick out of Houston, but played sparingly. The next year, he emerged as the Bengals’ top cornerback, outperforming Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick.
He did take a step back in 2019, but so did the rest of the team. Lou Anarumo was a first-time defensive coordinator, and inconsistent play around him made things difficult.
The Bengals defense has been awful over the last two years, but Jackson is one of the few pieces that fits.
Jackson is the closest thing the Bengals have to shut-down cornerback, and had a solid year. There are moments of frustration, but the NFL is an offensive league that favors receivers over cornerbacks. A true shut-down corner is hard to come by nowadays and keeping Jackson on the team would give the Bengals a very dependable CB1.
With several free agents potentially ready to leave, Jackson is at the top of the list to retain. Jackson should be the highest priority, except for Carl Lawson.
The Bengals need to re-sign at least one corner between Jackson and fellow pending free agent Mackensie Alexander. Trae Waynes and Darius Phillips are still under team control next year, but in today’s NFL you need three starting caliber cornerbacks to have a chance. It is possible that they let Jackson and Alexander walk and draft a cornerback.
However, the most likely scenario is that they re-sign Jackson and let Alexander walk.
Jackson turned 28 in October, so the Bengals might try to get one more contract out of him before letting him go. Spotrac estimates that he can get a three-year, $19 million deal on the open market this offseason.
That’s certainly within the Bengals’ price range. It’s entirely possible that the Bengals try to keep Jackson in Cincinnati for a few more years.