Chagers bolster defense with top free agent cornerback JC Jackson and two linemen

In the often unpredictable world of NFL free agency, the Chargers made three moves Monday that were highly predictable.

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

Prior to Monday, when free agent trading opened, coach Brandon Staley had publicly identified his defensive front and secondary front as the top two areas of concern.

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

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)

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

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

The moves cannot be made official until the new NFL league year begins on Wednesday.

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

Jackson will represent a significant upgrade for a secondary that has struggled with injuries and a lack of depth. He will play outside and give the Chargers the option to move Asante Samuel Jr.

Chris Harris Jr. had been the team’s main cornerback the past two seasons. He is now a free agent.

Veteran Michael Davis has been the Chargers’ other starting outside cornerback, though he had some tough 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, becoming a Pro Bowl selection last year.

Jackson played against two-time All-Pro Stephon Gilmore during his first three seasons. He will now have a clearly defined lead role with the Chargers.

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

Among supporting players, he was the highest-rated available in free agency, according to Pro Football Focus. Jackson ranked as the seventh-best cornerback in the league (out of 116 eligibles) in the PFF standings for last season.

Prior to Monday, he had earned $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, Florida, 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. Following the news of Jackson joining the Chargers, James tweeted a photo of the two of them together last month in the Pro Bowl.

A shoulder injury and some issues ended Jackson’s time in Florida after just 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, has started 38 games for the Rams over the past three seasons after being 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 getting injured. He managed to return to appear briefly in the Rams’ victory in Super Bowl LVI.

Joseph-Day is known primarily as a point guard, something the Chargers need. They just had one of the worst years in franchise history, giving up 138.9 yards per game.

Having played in Staley’s scheme, Joseph-Day will arrive with the kind of knowledge that many of the Chargers didn’t have a year ago. Adapting to a new system caused a lot of problems for the defense, especially early in the season.

Johnson, 27, is coming off his sixth and best season in the NFL. He finished with 72 tackles – six for loss of yards – and 3.5 sacks, starting 17 games and playing 57% of the Giants’ defensive at-bats.

That tackle total and the number of stops illustrate the type of production that attracted the Chargers’ interest.

Johnson was a second-round pick by Tennessee in 2016 and had only started 13 times entering 2021. But he has played in every game for his teams in the past five years and is open to staying in Los Angeles long-term.

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Chagers bolster defense with top free agent cornerback JC Jackson and two linemen