Jalen Mills the cornerback is gone. Say hello to Jalen Mills the safety.
In a surprise twist, The Score’s Jordan Schultz on Wednesday reported Mills is staying with the Patriots — and changing positions.
“I’m also told he plans to go back to safety next season,” Schultz tweeted.
Last week, it appeared Mills’ Patriots tenure was over, as multiple outlets reported New England planned to release the veteran defensive back. Instead, the sides agreed on a “revised” one-year contract worth up to $6.1 million, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The exact terms of that deal weren’t immediately shared, so it’s unclear how Mills’ return will impact the Patriots’ salary cap. Releasing him would have cleared roughly $5 million in cap space.
But with the 28-year-old back in the fold, it will be fascinating to see how New England constructs its secondary this season.
Mills was a starting outside cornerback for the Patriots in 2021 and 2020, and that’s been his primary position for much of his seven-year NFL career. But he hinted at a potential switch early last week when he tweeted: “Y’all know I really play safety, right?”
Though he’s mostly been pigeonholed into a perimeter corner role, Mills did have a chance to showcase his versatility in 2020, when the Philadelphia Eagles decided to use him as a jack-of-all-trades DB. That season, he played more than 180 snaps at wide corner (227), slot corner (182), free safety (236) and in the box (329), plus another 39 on the D-line, per Pro Football Focus. Safety also was Mills’ primary spot during his college career at LSU.
Wednesday’s developments could mean the Patriots now project Mills as their primary replacement for Devin McCourty, who retired this offseason after starting nearly every game for them at free safety over the last decade-plus.
It is worth noting Mills has logged just 10 total NFL snaps at free safety outside of that 2020 campaign and none in his two seasons with the Patriots, so assuming McCourty’s role on a full-time basis would be an adjustment.
New England also rosters enough versatile DBs that it could take a by-committee approach to replacing McCourty rather than plugging one single player into his spot. Safeties Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers and Joshuah Bledsoe and cornerbacks Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and Marcus Jones all have varying levels of free safety experience and could assist in that effort.
The Patriots also explored veteran additions to that group, hosting ex-Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp for a visit last week, and could target a long-term McCourty successor in next month’s 2023 NFL Draft.
Mills’ reported move to safety also means cornerback remains a major need for New England, as the Patriots still have a worrisome lack of size and length at the position. NESN.com’s latest mock draft, published Tuesday, has them taking Penn State corner Joey Porter Jr. with their top pick (No. 14 overall).