Two days after the loss of star cornerback J.C. Jackson to the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots addressed the position in free agency. Terrance Mitchell, who signed a reported one-year contract worth $3 million, will not replace Jackson one-for-one — he can be a serviceable starter but is far from Jackson’s Pro Bowl level.
That said, bringing him in allows the Patriots to bolster their cornerback depth by adding an experienced player at a comparatively low cost.
Name: Terrance Mitchell
Opening day age: 30
Size: 5-foot-11, 191 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022
A seventh-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Mitchell spent time with five different organizations over the course of his eight-year career in the NFL thus far. Nonetheless, he is not quite deserving of the “journeyman” label. After all, he became a starter-level defender for three of those teams: after starting just two games over the first three seasons of his career in Dallas, Chicago and Houston, Mitchell was given regular snaps over the course of his two-year stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mitchell started 12 games for the club, registering four interceptions along the way. His performance with the Chiefs led to him signing a three-year, $12 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in 2018. Spending three seasons in Cleveland, Mitchell added 29 more starts to his résumé and even led the team in defensive playing time during the 2020 season. The Oregon product also caught a pair of interceptions and forced five fumbles between his 2018 and 2020 campaigns.
Mitchell was on the move again after his contract with the Browns expired. He ended up singing a two-year, $6.5 million with the Texans — returning to an organization that already rostered him in the summer of 2016. He ended up seeing the field in 14 of 17 games, ranking second on the team in defensive snaps. Mitchell added another pick and three forced fumbles, bringing his career totals to 87 combined in-game appearances as well as eight interceptions, nine forced fumbles, one recovery, and one sack.
What is his projected role in New England? Mitchell spent the majority of his career as a perimeter cornerback, and his role is not expected to change with his new team. The Patriots will likely have him align outside the formation on the majority of his snaps, either as a starter-level defender or an experienced package-specific depth option.
Where does he fit on the cornerback depth chart? After adding Mitchell to the group, the Patriots have five outside cornerbacks under contract: Mitchell, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Justin Bethel. Based on starter-level experience, Mitchell currently projects as a starter opposite last year’s CB2, Jalen Mills. Obviously, though, signing him to a one-year deal is not the last move the Patriots will make to improve the position.
Does he have positional versatility? Mitchell aligned predominately on the outside during his eight seasons in the NFL, but he has moved around the secondary a bit throughout the years. In fact, he started off as a slot cornerback and occasionally moved there as well later in his career. That said, his value clearly lies on the defensive perimeter. The Patriots suddenly turning him into a player he has never really been should not be expected.
What is his special teams value? Only a fraction of Mitchell’s almost 4,000 career snaps has come in the kicking game. He does have some experience in the game’s third phase, though, having played on the punt return and kick coverage teams in both Cleveland and Houston. Mitchell furthermore has played a handful of snaps on the field goal and extra point blocking teams. Realistically, though, his special teams opportunities will be limited.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? While the full details of Mitchell’s contract are not yet available, the originally reported terms — one year, $3 million — suggest that it will not have a major impact on New England’s salary cap. The Patriots currently have a round $13 million in available cap space, per Miguel Benzan, and Mitchell will likely not take up a significant part of it.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Even with Mitchell added to the equation, cornerback remains one of the biggest needs on the Patriots’ roster. The team is still very much in the market for help at the position, either through free agency or the draft — or both. If the Patriots go the latter route, it would not be a surprise to see them draft a CB in one of the early rounds.
One-sentence verdict: If anything, signing Mitchell raises the floor of the cornerback group at a reasonable cost.
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