We’ll be breaking down all the major and minor moves for NFL Free Agency with grades and analysis. You can find the comprehensive list of moves and grades here.
Reported deal: Four years/$24 million with $9 million guaranteed
The early Patriots deal haves made sense. Even with hefty price tags for Jonnu Smith and Matt Judon, New England was choosing to pay near to-of-the-market prices for the best players available at their positions. Jalen Mills is not that.
Mills’s $6 million per year figure isn’t really what it seems with just $9 million guaranteed. It’s also nowhere near the top of the market should all the numbers in the deal be real. But it also feels completely unnecessary.
Mills was a much better safety convert than he was at cornerback, where he was especially a liability on double moves. But while pass catcher and edge rusher were immediate needs for New England, defensive back isn’t. Even if the Patriots work out a trade for Stephon Gilmore, they have J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones as well as 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams. Even 2020 undrafted free agent Myles Bryant flashed in limited playing time.
At safety, the Patriots still have Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Duggar, and the return of Patrick Chung from opting out of 2020. McCourty could be traded as well, but New England would still comfortably go three-deep at the position without needing significant resources to add depth. Even considering how the Patriots used Dime (six defensive backs) on 47% of their plays in 2020, which was the second-highest rate in the league, the Patriots just don’t seem pressed for defensive back help.
Among 34 safeties with at least 400 coverage snaps, Mills ranked 19th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. With the Eagles, Mills did move around the formation last year, which could add some value to the New England defense.
Jalen Mills’ pre-snap location heat map from last season, via NFL Next Gen Stats.
Recorded a completion percentage over expectation allowed of -12% last season (very good). pic.twitter.com/HY61GT5y4i
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) March 15, 2021
Still, it’s hard to imagine any other team would offer Mills this deal, especially on the opening day of free agency. The Patriots clearly want to aggressively add talent this offseason, but this was a little too much.