The New England Patriots’ early free agency spending spree did not just address some of the biggest weaknesses on the roster such as tight end and the interior defensive line, it also saw the team bolster a secondary that was already among the deepest in the league. On the first day of the legal tampering period, after all, the Patriots signed hyper-versatile Jalen Mills to a four-year contract worth $23.9 million.
What Mills’ role with his new team will eventually look like remains to be seen, but his versatility was certainly a major draw for the Patriots and why he ended up with them and not one of the other teams interested in obtaining his services. The 26-year-old acknowledged that during his introductory media conference call on Monday, and named it as one of the three main reasons why he signed in New England.
“When we’re talking about what was the difference between those teams and the Patriots, one, you have to start with this organization what they stand by and what they represent. And then, two, of course, being coached by Coach Belichick. I don’t really have to speak too much about that,” said Mills.
“And three, how they run their defense. They have guys who are very versatile, you see them playing guys in multiple positions and I think that’s what this league is going to now. You have guys who play multiple positions and it’s all about confusing these quarterbacks and being able to make plays. I think those are the top three reasons for me, and why I chose New England.”
A former seventh-round draft pick with the Philadelphia Eagles, Mills appeared in 63 regular season games and four playoff contests over the last five seasons. While starting his career primarily as a perimeter cornerback, he was given additional responsibilities after re-signing with the Eagles last year: by 2020, Mills was as much a free safety as he was a box safety as he was an outside or slot cornerback.
This ability to play all over the secondary also did not go unnoticed in New England.
“When we got into the building and met Coach Belichick for the first time that was actually one of the things that he said, that he loved my versatility; he loved the fact that I can play multiple positions,” Mills said about Belichick. “I think that was definitely a big thing for them.”
Mills gives New England’s head coach another multi-faceted tool to work with — one that projects to fit in well with recent additions such as safety Kyle Dugger or defensive edge Josh Uche. Belichick wants his team to play as positionless a game as possible, and the former Eagle is now part of this development as well.
As Mills noted, being able to play for the most successful head coach in NFL history was a significant reason why he signed in New England as well.
“It was huge,” he said. “We’re talking about just his defensive mind, and how he’s able to put guys in the position to make plays for the team. You can’t ask for anything more. And that’s at every position, from the D-line to the linebacker to guys in the secondary. You want a coach that knows exactly what you do best, puts you in position to do that, and help you win football games. That was definitely a major key for me being able to be coached by that guy, for sure.”
Mills’ admiration for Belichick was apparently also on full display during their first meeting at the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium facility. The newly signed defensive back and the future Hall of Famer crossed paths at team’s cafeteria, seemingly more by chance than concrete planning — at least on Mills’ part.
“It was kind of crazy,” Mills said. “I was talking to the nutritionist in the cafeteria. He was talking to me, telling me about the meal plans and how everything goes and works out as far as the food and the diet and all of that type of stuff. I’m about to walk out of the cafeteria and I just year, ‘Hey, Jalen.’ So, I turned around and it’s Coach. In my mind, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is Coach.’ But it really didn’t click that it was Coach Belichick.
“So, he’s just talking to me, telling me, ‘Happy to have you. Glad for you to be here. I’m excited for you to be here.’ And I literally turned my back to ho him and screamed out loud. ‘This is Coach Belichick. This is…’ Excuse my language, but I’m like, ‘This is f--king Coach Belichick!’ Like, I screamed it loud. And then I turned back around, and he was still monotone, regular, just having a casual conversation.
“I’m freaking out, and I was like, ‘My fault, Coach. One more thing, I have to cut you off. I don’t want to disrespect you, but, Coach, you’re a legend to me. I’m happy to be here.’ He was like, ‘Same, man. Happy for you to be here. Can’t wait to get going and coach you up.’ That was definitely a highlight outside, of course, making it official and signing my contract; meeting him and also meeting Mr. Kraft.”
Now joining a Patriots that also includes, among others, former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, long-time team captain Devin McCourty, and rising star J.C. Jackson, Mills is projected to do what he did in Philadelphia: be a jack of all trades, and thus a valuable chess piece for Belichick to use.
“When we’re talking about Belichick, this is a guy who I’ve been watching before I even started taking football seriously. And his defense, the type of players that he always has, the type of plays that they make. It’s all about him putting guys in the right position.”
There is little doubt the Patriots will put Mills in a position to be successful as well.