Philadelphia Eagles: A respectful tribute to Jalen Mills

(Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

Jalen Mills is a certified NFL success story.

The 233rd overall pick all the way back in the 2016 NFL Draft, Mills has appeared in 67 games with 53 starts, recorded 300 combined tackles, and five interceptions over his five seasons of NFL action.

Whether tasked with playing perimeter cornerback, free safety, or a hybrid slot/box role most prominently played by Malcolm Jenkins, Mills has remained the ever-vigilant pro willing to do whatever needs to be done to help his team win, even if it comes at the expense of his individual statistics.

So, with Mills back in Philly for what’s shaping out to be a rip-roaring good preseason soiree, why not take a look back at Mills’ tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, and appreciate a player who was never not controversial but always wore the City of Brotherly Love on his sleeve, and in his electric green hair.

Jalen Mills far exceeded his draft status with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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2016 was a transitional year for the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the borderline disastrous end to the Chip Kelly-era of Eagles football firmly in the rearview, Jalen Mills joined a cornerbacks room in flux as a rookie. There were players like Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe who were initially procured for their ability to be on-the-line, man press outside cornerbacks in a Seattle-lite secondary, and others like Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, who had previous experience playing for Jim Schwartz in Buffalo and made up for their lack of size with a tenacity when the ball was in the air.

To his credit, Mills sort of thread the line between the two camps. He wasn’t particularly fast, as his 4.61 40 yard dash would suggest, but made up for it with a big body, good ball skills, and active hands – even if the latter would eventually give him trouble at the NFL level from time to time.

Though the pride of LSU wouldn’t become a full-time starter until his second professional season in 2017, the legend of Mills in a midnight green uniform really began Week 10 of the 2016 NFL season, when the Eagles were facing off against the Atlanta Falcons at the Linc.

With the team struggling mightily to stop prime Julio Jones, who had already recorded 73 yards in the first half alone, Mills explicitly asked Schwartz to cover the Falcons’ top receiver one-on-one, a task not for the faint of heart by any means. While Jones still got his, recording 62 yards in the second half for a grand total of 135, only 46 of them came with Mills in coverage, and he was held out of the endzone for only the fourth time in 10 contests.

From that game on, Mills won the confidence of Schwartz and remained one of his two starting outside cornerbacks in every game he appeared in regardless of the additions of players like Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, and Darius Slay… at least until he decided to switch positions from cornerback to safety in 2020.

Despite finally receiving an opportunity to transition into more of a hybrid defensive back/safety role in the vein of Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Chung, a role he’d reportedly been trying to play for years, Mills still kicked it back to the perimeter cornerback when the chips were down for the Eagles last fall and arguably finished out the season as the team’s second-best cornerback over Avonte Maddox, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Cre’von LeBlanc.

These performances, both in 2020 and on a macro-level across his entire career, are a big reason why the New England Patriots swooped in like the Eagles’ darn mascot and signed away the Green Goblin to a four-year, $24 million deal to serve as the team’s next great hybrid defensive back next to Devin McCourty.

And now? Now Mills is back in the city that made him in a new jersey with a new number, but, through it all, he still remains the Green Goblin. Why? Well, because “Superman flies all around the world and his cape stays the same color. So I have to keep it green.”

In a way that feels fitting, while Mills could surely have dyed his hair bright red like his fellow former LSU Tiger Kwon Alexander, something tells me keeping his hair green is a not-so-subtle nod to the team that initially drafted him, even if he’s traded in his midnight green for red, white, and navy blue*.

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So Jalen Mills, welcome back to the City of Brotherly Love. While your finger-wagging certainly drew the ire of many a fan in the greater Delaware Valley, you remain one of the best seventh-round picks in Philadelphia Eagles history and played a key role in winning the Super Bowl at the culmination of the 2017 NFL season. That will surely afford you a special place in the hearts of many green bleeders for the foreseeable future.

* Jalen Mills may have also kept his hair green because his nickname is derived from the Marvel character “the Green Goblin.” While there is a Hobgoblin who wears orange, to my knowledge as a semi-regular watcher of the Spiderman cartoon series back in the 90s, there is not a red, white, or blue goblin prominent in the Marvel Universe. Thus he remains as green as Kermit the Frog.