After his release less than a week earlier, the Patriots re-signed veteran linebacker Jalen Mills.
After signing the former Eagles draftee to a four-year, $24 million contract in free agency in 2021, the Patriots have been planning to release Mills on a cover-providing gambit but are keeping the versatile defense back on a one-year deal, according to multiple reports. Mills wasn’t officially released in the eyes of the salary cap, so a revised contract up to $6.1 million supersedes his original deal, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
With the Patriots running out of depth outside cornerback, Mills has been a full-time cornerback for New England for the past two seasons, having production up and down. Last season, Mills allowed a rated 79.2 passes in his coverage with a 60% completion rate while hitting 80.1% of his shots at the outside corner. The 28-year-old has missed the last six games of the 2022 season with a nagging hip injury. Although Mills was unstable at cornerback, he returned as the only defensive back who could play the position listed at six feet on the list.
According to reports, Mills could also move to safety this coming season, where he could help fill the void left by the retirement of franchise legend Devin McCourty. At Philly, Mills was a jack of all trades, recording snaps in the box (329), free safety (236), and both points at cornerback. When he signed with the Pats as a free agent, most expected coach Bill Belichick to take advantage of that versatility by moving Mills around the secondary to get the most out of his skill set.
As a chess piece in the Eagles’ defense, Mills had arguably his best season posting a grade of 68.9 from Pro Football Focus. The Pats kicked tires on another free-agent safety this offseason, and Taylor hosted former Rams safety Squad for a visit. But now they’re reportedly sticking with Mills, which joins a group of databases that can mix and match in the backend.
The Patriots will have a hard time finding a pure linebacker with field intelligence and experience to fill McCourty’s shoes with one player. Instead, Mills joins standout safety Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Gabriel Peppers, and versatile nickel corners Jonathan Jones and Miles Bryant to replace McCourty by the commission. The free safety can still be a need in the draft. However, the move lessens the need to find McCourty’s immediate successor, which has been a theme throughout the roster all season—find viable veteran options so you don’t have to be forced into a certain position at the top of the draft out of desperation.
With Mills back, the feeling here is that he could serve as another option to cover the top of the tight ends since he has the size and cover skills, which would free up Dugger to play the rover where he can hawk the secondary. instead of running cover man. Mills also has some experience playing post-safety and split safety duties, but it remains to be seen how reliable he is as a deep zone defender in that system.
The Patriots continue to hold their deep chops on defense, with Mills joining six other free agents at home this offseason who resurfaced to return to Foxboro.
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