Welcome to the fourth article in our series on the Buffalo Bills’ pending free agents. I will go through the Bills’ current crop of free agents and give the arguments for re-signing them or letting them walk.
CB Dane Jackson
Years: 3 (Will be a restricted free agent)
Last contract: Rookie contract
With the departure of Levi Wallace in the 2022 season, Dane Jackson entered the season as the top cornerback on the Bills’ depth chart as the Bills awaited Tre’Davious White’s return. Even once White took back his starting role, the Bills’ coaching staff kept him in a 50/50 rotation with first-round pick Kaiir Elam. Jackson led all Bills in pass breakups with 10 and was tied for the best yards per reception allowed among Bills corners with 12.0. But he also provided many moments of frustration for Bills fans, giving up 43 receptions on the season.
Case for Re-Signing
Like the cornerback whose job he took in Wallace, Jackson isn’t the most exciting, world-beating cornerback in the world. But he is a serviceable, average NFL cornerback. Among 136 cornerbacks who played at least 20% of their team’s coverage snaps, Jackson finished 39th in PFF’s forced incompletion percentage, 38th in passer rating against, and 37th in completion percentage. These numbers are far from what makes Bills fans excited, but they are well within their powers to keep Jackson at a reasonable price.
Jackson is a restricted rights free agent, which means if the Bills were to place a right of first refusal tag, Jackson would only cost the Bills $2.6 million. Even if the Bills don’t plan to play Jackson in meaningful reps in 2023, $2.6 million is a reasonable price for cornerback depth. And following a season that saw Ja’Marcus Ingram and Xavier Rhodes take snaps for the Bills, they can use all the depth they can get.
Case for Letting Him Walk
Sure, I just pointed out that Jackson is both an average corner and relatively cheap, but if there is one thing the Bills have proven they can do under Sean McDermott, it is developing corners. Over the last six seasons, the Bills have gotten similarly fair play from the likes of EJ Gaines, Josh Norman, and the aforementioned Wallace. As inexpensive as Jackson may come, the Bills could find even cheaper corners in the free agent bargain bin or on day three of the draft. And that is without mentioning the Bills have drafted two (seemingly) good corners in the 2022 NFL draft in Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam. Elam pulled in three interceptions as a rookie and a passer rating against only 1.8 points away from Dane Jackson’s mark. Benford, despite missing most of the second half of the season, played well enough to split snaps with Elam. Even if Jackson were to depart, the Bills could feel comfortable rolling into 2023 with White, Elam, and Benford as the Bills’ outside corners.
Depth is so important in the NFL, and Jackson has played his way into being, at worst, a depth corner in the NFL. Do the Bills feel that Jackson is a luxury they can afford with two second-year corners in the wings? Could the Bills use the $2.6 million it would take to keep Jackson toward another defensive lineman or other areas of the roster? Also, do they trust that Benford and Elam will continue to impress? History tells us Beane and McDermott like to keep contributing restricted rights free agents (see Levi Wallace, Ryan Bates, Ike Boettger), but (like I have mentioned throughout this series) the Bills are entering a new era of their team building where every dollar matters.