Patriots Steal Ex-Eagles Super Bowl Champion, Defensive Leader

Jalen Mills

Getty Jalen Mills has left the Philadelphia Eagles' nest for the team he beat in Super Bowl LII.

The Green Goblin is taking his talents to New England. Jalen Mills signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the Patriots on Monday as the Philadelphia Eagles start the youth movement in their secondary.

The 26-year-old safety was one of 13 unrestricted Philly free agents, a player some expected to return on a team-friendly contract. Nope. Mills, a seventh-round pick in 2016, is gone one year after transitioning from cornerback to safety while firmly establishing himself as a leader on defense. He finished the 2020 campaign second on the team in tackles (74) and only missed one game (Week 17, not related to injury).

Mills will best be remembered for two things. First, the fourth-down play on Julio Jones in the divisional-round playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons. And, secondly, his gritty performance in Super Bowl LII versus New England when he re-entered the game after jamming his finger in the second quarter.

Mills posted a team-high nine tackles that night while breaking up two passes on Tom Brady. There was no way he wasn’t going back in, pain be damned.

“It didn’t matter if that thing was broken,” Mills told reporters. “I was coming back in.”

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Eagles Lacking Depth at Safety Spot

The Eagles are going to look a lot younger all over the field, especially at the safety position. Mills’ exit paves an uncertain future in the secondary, one that could throw out a starting tandem of K’Von Wallace and Marcus Epps. Rodney McLeod remains the undisputed leader on the backend — plus he’s under contract through the 2021 season — but his return from ACL surgery is far from a given. McLeod tore his left knee last December, less than two years after tearing his right knee.

Meanwhile, Rudy Ford inked a two-year, $4.2 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ford was an unrestricted free agent in Philly. That leaves Epps, Wallace, and Elijah Riley as the last men standing following the release of Blake Countess.

There are reports the Eagles might be targeting John Johnson in free agency. He’s similar to McLeod in size and style of play, plus he brings versatility having played slot corner and safety last year for the Los Angeles Rams.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia wrote the following about Johnson in his free-agency primer:

Free safety Rodney McLeod is coming off of a season-ending knee injury and turns 31 in June. Johnson played in a split-safety scheme in Los Angeles and showed versatility with more than 250 snaps at free safety, at slot corner and in the box. At just 25 years old, the Eagles can project Johnson as a key cog for when they’re ready to be more competitive.

UPDATE: The Cleveland Browns have signed Johnson to a three-year, $33.75 million ($24 million guaranteed), per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. There was considerable hype around the former third-rounder and not a lot of depth in free agency at the safety spot. Looks like another case of the Eagles being outbid.

Cross Jonnu Smith Off the Wish List

One name that was being linked to the Eagles early in free agency was Jonnu Smith. The outgoing tight end for the Tennessee Titans is a physical specimen who was either going to be franchise tagged or allowed to walk. Well, the latter happned and the New England Patriots pounced to the tune of four years and $50 million.

Smith, a Philly native, would have been the perfect complement to Dallas Goedert but the price was too high. He’ll now be the third-highest-paid tight end in terms of annual salary, per Spotrac. He made 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns in a limited role last year.


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