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New England Patriots

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

As the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period moves on, the Patriots continue to add to their defense. Their latest signing is former Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills.

The contract, as first reported by Adam Schefter, is worth $24 million over four years with $9 million guaranteed. The incentive-laden contract reflects the up-and-down nature of Mills’ five-year NFL career to this point.

Mills was drafted in the seventh-round as a cornerback out of LSU in 2016, and instantly earned playing time on the Eagles’ defense, playing 65 percent of their snaps his rookie year. After moving into a starting role with Philly’s 2017 championship team, injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 17 games total over the next two years.

Heading into last season, Mills signed a one-year ‘prove it’ deal to stay in Philadelphia. He also started playing more safety. That move ended up working out, as he was one of the few bright spots on the roster. He played 1,013 snaps in 2020, more than any other defensive player on the team. In 15 games he recorded 74 tackles, four for a loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and an interception.

Versatility is key in New England – especially on defense – and Mills brings plenty of it. His position change last season seemed to unlock his potential, as he was moved all over the field. In total, he played significant snaps lined up at box safety (329 plays, per PFF), free safety (236 plays), outside corner (227), slot corner (182), and even on the defensive line (39). According to Mike Reiss, he was the only player in the NFL last season to line up at all seven pre-snap defensive back locations last year.

How will Mills’ versatility be used in New England? Deep safety may be the key. The Patriots never truly replaced Duron Harmon after trading him last year, and are still missing that second deep ball defender to play next to Devin McCourty. Mills could either slide into that role, or play more in the box and free up Kyle Dugger to play more deep safety, a spot he played most of the time in college. He could also give them insurance at the cornerback position, with Jason McCourty a pending free agent and Stephon Gilmore’s future uncertain.

MORE: NFL Free Agency tracker

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.