In arguably the most surprising move of the Patriots’ off-season thus far, the team is reportedly releasing cornerback Jalen Mills, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
New England will reportedly save $5 million in cap space with the move.
On the surface, the move comes at an odd time.
While Mills is coming off a bad year – his worst-graded season overall and in coverage since his rookie season – in which he battled multiple injuries, it didn’t seem like an opportune moment to let the veteran cornerback go.
Though mainstay Jonathan Jones has re-signed with the team and should once again serve as the team’s top cornerback, the depth behind Jones remains pretty unproven in Marcus and Jack Jones. Both had strong moments as rookies but didn’t quite look ready to handle full-time outside cornerback duties.
The other question to consider: could cutting Mills be just another move to free up space to make a signing? Former Rams safety Taylor Rapp has been in the building of late and may be on the verge of a deal with New England to take over a similar multi-dimensional role in the defensive backfield. Plus, cornerbacks like Rock Ya-Sin, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Peters remain on the open market and could perhaps come in as veteran competition to start opposite Jones or allow Jones to move back to the slot.
Cutting Mills felt like a possibility late in training camp after the team had seen what the younger Joneses looked like in their second seasons and had potentially drafted one of the many starting-caliber rookie corners from this year’s draft class to make Mills expendable.
But doing so now allows him to find work with another team in relatively short order – and might be a sign of another move coming.