The Eagles’ season is still alive, and playoff hopes remain, but the reality is that the 2020 offseason is likely going to be here much sooner than many expected, and the front office has started the process of trying to re-sign or re-do the deals of players currently on their roster.
A player the Eagles should focus on trying to lock up on a long-term deal is cornerback Jalen Mills.
While the struggles of the offense have taken center stage with this team, the play of the defense over the last three weeks has been extremely encouraging. The solid play has been a team effort, but it likely isn’t a coincidence that it started right around the time that Mills returned.
Since he arrived in 2016, Mills has been the best cornerback on the Eagles, and in many ways the heart-and-soul of the defense. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is certainly a leader of the defense, but it is Mills -- still just 25-years old -- and his supreme confidence that fuels the secondary and has defined their personality. The secondary has not been perfect, but with Mills on the field, more times than not they get the job done and play well enough for this team to win.
Although he is unfairly ripped at times, the reality is that Mills is a very good cornerback. He is great against the run, a very good tackler and is good in man coverage. Even without elite down-the-field speed, he is rarely beaten deep when you consider how often he is put out on an island.
Lately, Mills — despite missing almost a year due to a foot injury — has been playing arguably the best football of his career. In fact, since Week 7, only two cornerbacks (min. 20 targets) have a forced a lower passer rating when being targeted than Mills has:
With Mills back on the field (as well as the return of Ronald Darby), the Eagles defense ranks 5th in defensive passer rating since Week 8:
From Weeks 1-7, when Mills was on the sideline, the Eagles defense ranked 21st with a defensive passer rating of 95.2 — a nearly twenty-point increase since Mills returned.
Adding to the pressure for the Eagles to bring back Mills is the uncertainty the team has at the position moving forward.
In addition to Mills, Darby is also set to become a free agent this offseason. Sidney Jones, after being benched, is unlikely to be here next season. Rasul Douglas and Cre’von LeBlanc both have just one year remaining on their deals. In fact, the only cornerback currently on the roster signed past the 2020 season is Avonte Madoxx. Although they don’t play cornerback, safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins are also no guarantee to return next season either.
That reality is going to force the Eagles to make multiple moves in the secondary this season and likely address it early on in the 2020 NFL Draft. Still, trying to remake the entire secondary in one offseason is going to be hard and likely an impossible task.
What the team can do, however, is ensure one cornerback spot is locked in for 2020 and beyond by extending Mills.