The New England Patriots and Jalen Mills pulled a bit of a switcheroo on Wednesday.
Less than a week after he was released, Mills is making his way back to New England. The cornerback agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $6.1 million, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday.
Mills' return is obviously a bit of a surprise, though it's understandable why the Patriots brought him back. New England was thin at corner depth if Mills didn't return, leaving Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, and Jack Jones as the only corners on their roster that played a considerable amount of snaps last season. Mills' versatility also gives the Patriots another option to help replace Devin McCourty, who retired earlier in March, at free safety.
It also makes sense because of the money. Mills had two years remaining on his four-year, $24 million deal and was set to have a $6 million base pay for the 2023 season based on the deal. Cap experts speculate that Mills' new deal likely will be heavy with incentives as the Patriots cleared up some cap space.
Gonna be a ton of incentives here considering Mills was cut ahead of a $6M 2023 base pay. Included $1M in per game roster bonuses, could see those again too
Patriots have had the most incentive-heavy deals of the offseason thus far (Smith-Schuster, Gesicki, James Robinson) https://t.co/6Z6bDuYX9c
— Brad Spielberger, Esq. (@PFF_Brad) March 22, 2023
Mills started in all 26 games he played in over the last two seasons, playing cornerback on a full-time basis for the first time in his career over that stretch. He struggled a bit in 2021, causing the Patriots to move to a more zone-coverage defense. In 2022, Mills was better. He had two interceptions while opposing quarterbacks completed 27 of 45 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns with a 79.2 passer rating when targeting him.
Wilson & Mills on the pick.
📺: #NEvsPIT on @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/bCAXgzglXE
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 18, 2022
Mills, who turns 29 in April, suffered some injury woes in 2022 though. He missed the final six games of the season due to a groin injury and seven games total.
Prior to joining the Patriots in 2021, Mills played the first five seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He mostly played at safety for them, making Mills' versatility valuable to the Patriots.
It's unknown how much Mills' new deal will affect the Patriots' cap space, though it likely won't cause them to lose a lot of cap space if the deal is heavy on incentives. New England has roughly $14.5 million in cap space, per salary cap guru Miguel Benzan.