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Patriots Roster Breakdown: Jalen Mills Heads to Free Agency

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New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) gestures while warming up prior to an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. Mills was Pro Football Focus highest graded defensive player for Week 14 (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

There are expected to be a lot of changes in the New England Patriots locker room before the 2024 season gets underway. The coaching staff has already seen significant turnover, most notably with Jerod Mayo replacing Bill Belichick as the Patriots head coach.

But what will the New England roster look like in the fall? Some of that will be determined by players not currently on the team. The NFL Draft and free agency will both bring new faces to Foxboro. But what about the players?

Patriots Football Now will look at all potential players under the team’s control before Week 1 arrives in September. Today’s Patriots Roster Breakdown featured player: Jalen Mills.

Jalen Mills

Mills will turn 30 in April. The defensive back is a veteran of eight NFL seasons, the last three as a member of the New England Patriots. Mills transitioned from cornerback to safety in 2023. He appeared in all 17 games for New England, finishing the season with 45 tackles (26 solo) and had a forced fumble.

Jalen Mills played his first five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He helped the Eagles win Super Bowl 52 in his second season, starting at left cornerback. Philadelphia beat New England 41-33 to win their first Lombardi Trophy. He signed with the Patriots as a free agent in 2021. Last offseason he opted to come back to New England on a restructured one-year deal after initial reports he was being released.

Pro Football Focus viewed Mills unfavorably in 2023. His defensive grade for the season was 59.1. For reference, a grade below 70.0 isn’t considered worthy of starting. A grade below 60.0 represents being replaceable by a non-roster player. He did have consecutive strong games against Pittsburgh (85.4) and Kansas City (80.1) before regressing again in the final three games.

Contract Status

Jalen Mills is an unrestricted free agent. He is free to sign with any team when free agency opens on March 13.

Safety Group

New England had two safeties play nearly every snap they were available for in 2023: Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers. Dugger is also headed to free agency and will be one of the premier players on the open market, unless New England designates him with a franchise tag. Marte Mapu, Adrian Phillips, and Joshuah Bledsoe are all under contract in New England as well. With both Dugger and Mills set to test the market, there is a potential for turnover in this group.

Outlook for Jalen Mills

Mills struggled at cornerback in 2022. He was not used there in 2023, despite the Patriots being shorthanded at the position on several occassions. Thus, it seems Jalen Mills will be used as exclusively a safety moving forward. Unfortunately, Mills has not proven he is capable of handling a heavy workload. He struggled in the only two games he played more than 28 defensive snaps. Furthermore, Mills is not a special teams contributor, playing just 21 plays on special teams all season. It is unknown if the new regime will have as much of an emphasis on special teams versatility, but a depth safety (i.e. Adrian Phillips) being able to contribute on special teams certainly increases their value on the roster. As a result, it appears a longshot for Mills to return to New England in 2024.