After a tumultuous couple of weeks, William Jackson got his wish. The Washington Commanders traded the disgruntled cornerback to the Pittsburgh Steelers as both teams swapped future conditional late-round draft picks.
The trade with the Steelers helped the Commanders avoid releasing Jackson for no compensation. Jackson wanted out of Washington, and the Commanders were ready to move on, one way or another.
Speaking to JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera candidly admitted the signing of Jackson “didn’t work,” and was a mistake by the Commanders.
“Quite honestly, we didn’t find the fit that we were hoping to find,” Rivera said (h/t Nicki Jhabvala). “We were looking for a guy that had a specific skillet, that could understand the match coverages and play the match coverages the way we do with everybody else. And he struggled with it because he really is a man-coverage type of guy. So along the lines, during our evaluation process, we were wrong.”
Jackson signed a three-year, $40.5 million deal with Washington as a free agent in March 2021 after four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
During his time with the Bengals, Jackson flourished in man coverage. However, after signing with Washington, Jackson got placed in a match-up zone scheme under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Jackson played 12 games in his first season with Washington. His struggles were glaring, and there were doubts about his fit. This offseason, Jackson sought to correct his issues. His efforts in training camp created a lot of optimism entering this season. Unfortunately, Jackson’s play regressed beyond the 2021 struggles.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 70.8% of passes with a 121.4 quarterback rating when targeting Jackson through five games this season. It was in the fifth game against the Tennessee Titans that things came to a head for Jackson.
The coaches pulled Jackson in the second quarter. Jackson adamantly stated a back injury was the cause of his struggles. However, Rivera’s reaction points to Jackson getting benched.
Ultimately, Jackson wanted out, reportedly preferring a scheme that his skillset fit. The Commanders were ready to turn the page and admit their mistake.
“That is the business of pro football,” Rivera added to Finlay. “Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. And when you get it wrong, when you recognize it, realize it, time to move on. That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to not just move on for our sake, but also to give William an opportunity to go to another team that knows that they’re going to give this guy a shot to use his skillset and exactly what they do, specifically.”
At age 30, William Jackson gets a chance to play in a man-based scheme. The Steelers fill a need. Meanwhile, the Commanders add to a growing list of big-money mistakes in free agency.
Jackson played 16 games for the Commanders before Tuesday’s trade. The Commanders paid him $24 million during that span. Washington will receive a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2025 from the Steelers in exchange for Jackson and a conditional 2025 seventh-round draft pick.