Ranking Patriots’ five best 2020 salary cap bargains: J.C. Jackson provides incredible value

There’s likely nobody in the NFL who likes bargain contracts more than New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and that affinity for such deals will come in handy in 2020. The Patriots have been a bit strapped for salary cap relief this offseason, as they have been dinged with a number of dead cap hits for the upcoming season. Luckily for them, they do have a number of players who are playing on extremely affordable deals, which makes a couple of these dead-cap hits a bit easier to swallow.  

For the purposes of our little discussion here, we’re going to be taking a look at a handful of players Belichick has able to find over the years and signed to a very team-friendly deal for the 2020 season. Specifically, we’ll be looking at each players’ cap hit. What you’ll notice from the jump is that the players listed below are still in the midst of their first NFL contracts and were mostly either late-rounders or undrafted free agents, which does make sense given the deals for such players don’t break the bank in the slightest.

All salary cap figures are courtesy of Spotrac. 

1. J.C. Jackson, cornerback

2020 salary cap hit: $753,334

J.C. Jackson is the latest undrafted corner that Bill Belichick has been able to cultivate in New England and help bring him to borderline elite status. After playing his college ball at Maryland and going undrafted in 2018, Jackson found a home in Foxborough and opened eyes almost instantly. He made it onto the 53-man roster that year and ended up starting in five games over the course of his rookie season. 

The 24-year-old’s workload jumped exponentially during his second year in the league, playing in 68 percent of the defensive snaps compared to just 38 percent of the snaps during his rookie campaign. With that added playing time, Jackson rewarded the coaching staff with stellar play in the secondary. Out of any cornerback in the NFL last season, Jackson allowed the lowest passer-rating when targeted at just 37.0. That was even better than his teammate and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore

The Patriots are getting this elite play at an absolute steal. As Jackson heads into the final year of his rookie contract, the Patriots will be paying him $750,000 in base salary with a $753,334 cap charge for 2020. Over the lifetime of Jackson’s first deal in the NFL, the Patriots were able to get high-level production for just $1.7 million.  

As he marches into a pivotal third season in the league, Jackson could position himself for a hefty payday. 

2. Jarrett Stidham, quarterback

2020 salary cap hit: $833,423

The main reason why Stidham isn’t an automatic No.1 on this list is that we don’t know for certain if he’ll actually be the starter this season. He still has to duke it out with veteran Brian Hoyer — who also has a very cheap deal — for QB1 honors as the Pats begin the post-Tom Brady era. New England did decide to punt on adding another quarterback in free agency or at the NFL Draft this offseason other than Hoyer — who spent the 2019 season with the Colts — which would give some indication that the club is comfortable with Stidham possibly taking the reins. If he’s able to earn that starting spot, then he does serve as a wildly cheap option at the most important position in the game for not only next season but in the years to come. 

Stidham is looking at a base salary of just $675,000 next season at a cap hit of $833,423 after being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. He did impress during the regular season and in practice throughout the year, but the only regular-season action we saw from him wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring, throwing a pick-six to Jamal Adams before being benched for Brady. Still, Stidham has potential

The 23-year-old is signed through the 2022 season and the highest his cap hit ever goes is just $1.12 million during the final year of his deal, so New England is looking down the barrel of some big savings over the next few seasons if he proves to be “the guy.” 

While Stidham himself is coming in cheap, it should be pointed out that the Patriots are still being nailed with Tom Brady’s $13.5 million dead cap hit, so the position is still costly for New England in 2020.  

3. Chase Winovich, defensive end

2020 salary cap hit: $930,328

Chase Winovich is in a position to see a real increase in his role on defense as he heads into Year 2, especially with the departures of both Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy in free agency. After not starting a single game for New England in the regular season, Winovich will have an inside track at one of the available slots for 2020. When he ultimately grabs ahold of it, he’ll be taking the next step in his career and the Patriots will be getting a starting-caliber player at a fraction of the cost. 

Winovich is signed through the 2022 season and will only cost the Patriots $681,000 in base salary next season with a cap hit of under a million. He does just edge over that $1 million mark in 2021 and 2022, but it’s pennies on the dollar for the potential production the Patriots could be getting.  

The 2019 third-round pick out of Michigan was looked at as a steal at the time of his selection and did flash his potential early in his rookie season. In his first five games, Winovich totaled four sacks and five quarterback hits. He finished with 5.5 sacks on the year and 26 total tackles. 

4. Isaiah Wynn, left tackle

2020 salary cap hit: $3,120,519

The 2020 season will be a crucial one for Isaiah Wynn. First and foremost, he’ll need to stay healthy. The 2018 first-rounder missed his entire rookie season because of a torn Achilles and then was limited to just eight games during the 2019 regular season because of a toe injury. When healthy, however, he’s slotted in as the Patriots’ starting left tackle and, at the price he’s being paid, it’s pretty cheap. 

Wynn, who is under team control through 2022 if his fifth-year option is picked up, comes in with a $1,520,173 base salary next season with a cap hit of just over $3 million. That cap charge ranks 28th among left tackles heading into next season, so even if he’s average, his contract should be looked at favorably. If he lives up to his first-round billing, that’s even better.  

5. Ja’Whaun Bentley, linebacker

2020 salary cap hit: $825,988

Similar to Winovich, Bentley is a candidate to see an uptick in playing time in 2020 as he’s looked at as a suitable replacement for Elandon Roberts at inside linebacker. He played in just 27 percent of the defensive snaps last season but still totaled 44 tackles, which was tied for the eighth-most on the team. Roberts’ departure does give Bentley the opportunity to jump into a more prominent role within New England’s defense after starting in just two games last season. 

If he takes the leap in Year 3, he’s another player that New England is getting max value from. 

The former fifth-round pick out of Purdue has two more years remaining on his rookie deal and is very inexpensive for the Patriots. In that time, his cap hit won’t exceed $1 million and in 2020 is looking at a base salary of $750,000. Bentley likely won’t be the anchor to New England defense next year by any stretch, but he’s poised to be a valuable cog to the overall operation of the unit, especially against the run. At that price, the Patriots should be thrilled at what they are getting from him.

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