The Patriots are re-signing senior defensive back Jalen Mills following his release a week ago.
After signing the former Eagles draft pick to a $24 million contract in free agency in 2021, the Patriots planned to release Mills in a cap-saving maneuver but retain the versatile defensive end on a reworked one-year deal. According to several reports. Mills’ release was never official from a salary cap standpoint, so a revised contract worth $6.1 million took the place of his original deal, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
With the Patriots depleted at outside cornerback depth, Mills has been the full-time cornerback for New England the past two seasons, where he’s been productive up and down the stretch. Last season, Mills allowed a 79.2 passer rating in his coverage with a 60% completion rate. The 28-year-old missed the final six games of the 2022 season with a nagging groin injury. While Mills has been inconsistent at corner, he returns as the only defensive player listed over six feet on the roster who can play.
According to reports, Mills could move to safety this upcoming season, where he could help fill the void left by the retirement of franchise legend Devin McCourty. In Philly, Mills was a jack of all trades, with records in the box (329), free safety (236), and both cornerback spots. When he signed with the Pats as a free agent, most expected head coach Bill Belichick to take advantage of that versatility by moving Mills around the secondary to get the most out of his skill set.
A chess piece in the Eagles’ defense, Mills had a career-best season with a 68.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. The Pats kicked the tires on other free-agent safeties this offseason, visiting former Rams safety Taylor Rapp. But now with Mills reportedly joining, he joins a group of DBs who can mix and match in the backfield.
The Patriots will have a tough time finding a pure center fielder with the on-field acumen and experience to fill McCurdy’s shoes with a player. Instead, Mills joins Kyle Tucker, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers and versatile nickel corners Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant to replace McCourty by committee. Free safety may still be a need in the draft. Still, the move alleviates the need to find an immediate-McCourty successor, which has been a theme throughout the offseason — find potential veteran options so you don’t get pushed to a certain position at the top of the draft out of desperation. .
Once Mills returns, the feeling here is that he has the size and cover skills to serve as another option to cover receiving tight ends, freeing up Tucker to play more of a rover role in the secondary where he can throw the ball to the Hawks. Rather than playing man coverage. Mills has some experience playing both post-guard and split-guard assignments, but it remains to be seen how reliable he will be as a deep zone defender in this system.
The Patriots continue to maintain their depth on defense, with Mills returning to Foxboro this offseason to join six other interior free agents.