- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2021

William Jackson III tweeted for the first time in four months on Wednesday. He used just 14 of the allowed 280 character limit.  That was all he needed. 

“#NewProfilePic” Jackson wrote, attaching a digitally altered photo of him suited up in a Washington uniform. 

Washington lost starting cornerback Ronald Darby in free agency to the Denver Broncos. But the team replaced him with Jackson, arguably the top cornerback on the market after spending five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The signing is a bold move for Washington, which gave the 28-year-old a three-year, $40.5 million deal that can jump to $42 million with incentives.  That’s significantly more than the three-year, $30 million contract that the Broncos gave Darby.

But Jackson could be well worth the extra cost — and someone Washington needs as the team looks for its elite defense to take another step. At 6 feet, Jackson is a speedy cornerback — he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine — who has length and excels at man-to-man coverage.

According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 36 receptions on 69 targets.  That’s a better reception percentage than both Darby (56 receptions on 103 targets, 54%) and Washington starter Kendall Fuller (39 of 74, 53%). Fuller limited opposing quarterbacks to a better passing rating when targeted because of his four interceptions, but Jackson held passers to a respectable 86.4.

Jackson’s skill set possibly allows Washington to be more versatile. Under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Washington deployed zone coverage 62.9% of the time.

“We could see a shift to more man coverage — to fit the traits of Jackson,” tweeted ESPN analyst and former Washington safety Matt Bowen. “He’s a physical, press CB. And WASH has the Front-7 to generate pressure.” 

Washington’s front-seven, especially the defensive line, was crucial to the team’s improved pass defense in 2020. Washington generated tremendous pressure, forcing quarterbacks to get the ball out faster. Combined with generally solid play from the secondary, Washington ranked second in pass defense DVOA (efficiency) and second in passing yards allowed. 

But if there was a weakness on defense, it was big plays. 

Washington surrendered nine that went for at least 50 yards last year — second-most in the league.  Seven of those lapses were on passes. 

Expand that figure to longer than 40 yards, and Washington’s defense gave up 16 plays.

According to Pro Football Focus, only one of the passes targeted toward Jackson resulted in a 50-yard gain last season: He gave up a bomb to Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks in Week 16. Jackson, though, had three other plays that resulted in 46-, 43- and 42-yard gains. 

Still, Jackson graded favorably in yards per snap (1.07, 47th league-wide) and snaps per reception allowed (14,13th). He doesn’t get beat often. 

If there is a concern about Jackson’s game is that the corner hasn’t produced many turnovers. He has just three career interceptions, one of which came last year. And he can be a little bit too physical at times as the third-most pass interference penalties last year with five.

As for his contract, Washington structured the deal so that Jackson will carry only a $6.6 million cap hit in 2021 — giving the team additional cap room as the front office still participates in free agency. As part of the arrangement, Jackson’s cap hit jumps to $16 million in 2022 and $17 million in 2023. Jackson’s deal earned him $21 million at signing, all guaranteed.

The cap space became valuable. Before agreeing to a 3-year, $34.5 million contract with former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel on Wednesday, Washington had a projected $21.3 million available, which was the ninth-most in the NFL.  

The receiver market had been slow to develop before Washington added Samuel, who is expected to be the No. 2 wideout opposite former Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin. Samuel played three seasons for Rivera in Carolina. Washington also has needs at linebacker and tackle.

At linebacker, Washington would like a versatile player at the position who could defend the pass. The team lost starter Kevin Pierre-Louis to a two-year, $8 million deal with the Houston Texans. Other names like Tennesee’s Jayon Brown and Las Vegas’ Nicholas Morrow have come off the market. 

At tackle, Washington added depth Wednesday by bringing back swing tackle David Sharpe on a one-year deal. The team still does not have a long-term answer at left tackle after trading Trent Williams last year. 

And speaking of Williams, the eight-time Pro Bowler agreed to re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers on a six-year, $138 million deal Wednesday that makes him the highest-paid tackle in football. 

Washington also brought back running back Lamar Miller. 

Jackson’s deal, meanwhile, is expected to become official Thursday. He and Fitzpatrick are scheduled to arrive at the team’s facility in Ashburn to take their physical. 

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