Chargers bolster defense with top free agent corner J.C. Jackson, two linemen

New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson scores on an interception return against the Carolina Panthers in November.
New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson scores on an interception return against the Carolina Panthers in November. Jackson reportedly has agreed to a five-year deal with the Chargers.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

In the often unpredictable world of NFL free agency, the Chargers on Monday made three moves that were very foreseeable.

They agreed to terms with cornerback J.C. Jackson and interior linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, bolstering a defense that sagged at times in 2021.

Before Monday, when the free-agent negotiating period opened, coach Brandon Staley had publicly identified his secondary and defensive front as the two primary areas of concern.


The headlining move was adding Jackson, who agreed to a five-year contract that includes $40 million in guaranteed money and is worth up to $82.5 million.

Joseph-Day will be reuniting with Staley, who served as his defensive coordinator with the Rams in 2020. Joseph-Day agreed to a three-year deal with $15 million guaranteed and a potential value of $24 million.

With free agency looming, Chargers coach Brandon Staley thinks his defense needs help on all levels, but especially in the middle of the defensive line and at cornerback.

March 12, 2022

Johnson is set to sign a two-year contract after emerging last season with the New York Giants. His deal is believed to be worth up to $14 million.

The moves can’t become official until the NFL’s new league year begins Wednesday.

The Chargers’ push to improve on defense began last week when they acquired three-time All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack in a trade with Chicago.

Jackson will represent a significant upgrade for a secondary that struggled because of injuries and lacked depth. He will play outside and give the Chargers the option of moving Asante Samuel Jr. into the slot in nickel and dime packages.


Chris Harris Jr. had served as the team’s primary slot corner the last two seasons. He is now a free agent.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, which will be held April 28-30 in Las Vegas.

March 14, 2022

Veteran Michael Davis has been the Chargers’ other starting outside corner, though he had some difficult stretches during his first season in Staley’s system.

Jackson, 26, was undrafted coming out of Maryland in 2018 before signing with New England. In four seasons with the Patriots, he progressed quickly, making himself into a Pro Bowl selection last year.

Jackson played opposite two-time All-Pro Stephon Gilmore during his first three seasons. He’ll now have a clearly defined leading role with the Chargers.

He has 25 career interceptions, including 17 over the last two seasons. Jackson had more interceptions in 2021 (eight) than all of the Chargers’ defensive backs combined (seven).

Among secondary players, he was the top-rated one available in free agency, according to Pro Football Focus. Jackson graded out as the league’s seventh-best corner (among 116 eligible) in PFF’s rankings for last season.

The Rams' Sebastian Joseph-Day sacks Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
The Rams’ Sebastian Joseph-Day, shown sacking Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, is more well-known for his ability against the run.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Before Monday, he had made $5.1 million during his NFL career. His salaries for the next two years — $3 million in 2021 and $12 million in 2022 — are guaranteed. So is his $25-million signing bonus.

Born in Immokalee, Fla., Jackson was a two-way high school star before moving on to the University of Florida.

He and Chargers’ safety Derwin James Jr., another Floridian, are friends. After news of Jackson joining the Chargers broke, James tweeted a photo of the two together last month at the Pro Bowl.

A shoulder injury and illegal problems ended Jackson’s time at Florida after only one season. He then spent a year at Riverside City College before transferring to Maryland, where he played for two seasons.

Joseph-Day, who turns 27 next week, started 38 games for the Rams over the last three seasons after he was a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft.

He was limited to seven starts in 2021 after undergoing pectoral surgery in early November. Joseph-Day had 38 tackles and three sacks in seven games before being hurt. He did make it back to appear briefly in the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI victory.

Shortly after agreeing to terms with Joseph Noteboom, the Rams announced that they also agreed to terms with center Brian Allen on a three-year deal.

March 14, 2022

Joseph-Day is recognized particularly as a run stopper, something the Chargers need. They just put together one of the worst years against the run in franchise history, giving up 138.9 yards per game.

Having played in Staley’s scheme, Joseph-Day will arrive with the sort of knowledge so many of the Chargers lacked a year ago. Adjusting to a new system led to many of the defense’s issues, especially early in the season.

Johnson, 27, is coming off his sixth and finest NFL season. He finished with 72 tackles — six for yardage lost — and 3.5 sacks while starting 17 games and playing 57% of the Giants’ defensive snaps.

That tackle total and snap count illustrate the type of production, especially against the run, that attracted the Chargers’ interest.

Johnson was a second-round pick by Tennessee in 2016 and had started only 13 times entering 2021. But he has played in every one of his teams’ games over the last five years.