Don’t make any sweeping assumptions about future moves in the New England Patriots’ secondary based on their decision to sign defensive back Jalen Mills on Monday.
Mills plays absolutely everywhere, and the Patriots love collecting defenders who can move around their defense.
This was Mills’ snap rate in 2020, per Pro Football Focus:
So, what does this move mean for cornerback Stephon Gilmore (who either needs to be traded or given a raise this offseason), cornerback JC Jackson (a restricted free agent), cornerback Jason McCourty (an unrestricted free agent), safety Devin McCourty (who has one year remaining on his contract) or any of the Patriots’ other defensive backs?
At this juncture, probably nothing. Mills isn’t necessarily a one-to-one replacement for any player in New England’s secondary last season. He can coexist with everyone because he plays everywhere.
Mills was a more traditional cornerback prior to 2020, so he could move back to that role if the Patriots lose Gilmore, Jackson or Jason McCourty. He was adept at playing free safety in 2020, so he could move back there permanently if the Patriots lose Devin McCourty during the course of Mills’ reported four-year contract. Jason McCourty moved all around the Patriots’ defense last season and will be 34 years old this season, so he’s no guarantee to return. Mills is more costly than Jason McCourty, but he is an upgrade.
Most of the Patriots’ moves Monday filled obvious needs: at tight end (Jonnu Smith), wide receiver (Nelson Agholor), defensive tackle (Davon Godchaux) and edge defender (Matt Judon). The Mills signing was a little bit more out of left field after the Patriots drafted safety Kyle Dugger last spring and will be getting another safety, Patrick Chung, back from an opt-out this season.
But the market is volatile, and there’s no guarantee what will happen with Gilmore, Jackson or a number of other Patriots defensive backs. Mills is a solid signing who can slot in anywhere and everywhere.