Jalen Mills high on confidence after pick-6

Jalen Mills high on confidence after pick-6

Jalen Mills was about to step out of bounds when somewhere in the back of his mind he heard … voices.
"Malcolm (Jenkins), coach (Jim) Schwartz and coach (Cory) Undlin, they’ve been grilling me all week, talking about how I had no return skills," Mills said with a laugh. "So that kind of went through my mind."
Mills did pick up his first two career interceptions earlier this year and had a 15-yard return against the Redskins and a one-yarder against the Giants.
At LSU, Mills had six interceptions and averaged only two yards per return.
And his teammates and coaches have been good-naturedly mocking him about it. As teammates and coaches will do.
"So that kind of went through my mind," Mills said. "So I cut it back, and I had to get in the end zone or I wouldn’t stop hearing the end of it. I had to shut them up."
Instead of stepping out of bounds, Mills cut inside and spun and twisted his way into the end zone Sunday for a 37-yard interception return touchdown at a time when the Eagles really needed a big play in their 33-10 win over the 49ers (see breakdown).
They led the winless 49ers 10-3 but were sputtering in the final minutes of the first half. Until Mills showed off his dazzling return skills.
"That was a good one," Jenkins said. "He shut me up on that play.
"We've been doing a decent job of getting turnovers, but scoring on those opportunities is something we wanted to take the next step to, and Jalen's been playing big for us all year, and that was probably the biggest play of all."
Working on a 3rd-and-7 on the 49ers' 28-yard line with a minute and a half left before halftime, 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard dropped back, felt pressure from Chris Long and tried to lob the ball to Pierre Garcon near the right sideline.
But Mills picked it off in front of Garcon at the 37-yard-line, then started speeding down the sideline (see Roob's observations).
Just as it looked like he was about to go out of bounds at the 12, he cut inside, swung back to the 15-yard line, darted past Fletcher Cox, who had just leveled Joe Staley and knocked him out of the game, then cut back inside at the 4-yard line and with blocks from Dexter McDougle and Jaylen Watkins, he galloped past three 49ers and into the end zone.
It was the Eagles' first pick-six this year and longest by an Eagles cornerback since Brandon Boykin's 54-yarder off Jay Cutler in 2013.
"As soon as I got a pick, Malcolm grabbed me, so I knew I was over him," Mills said. "Then I ran right to Schwartz, and he gave me a big hug, and then Cory gave me a big hug."
Mills' interception was the product of a week of preparation but also some game-day preparation.
“I was talking to some of the other DBs, like Malcolm and Pat (Robinson) and Rodney (McLeod), when we were out there in pregame just warming up and watching the quarterback, seeing the rain and the wind," Mills said.
"He was kind of letting the ball float a little bit and you see a lot of guys slipping out there, so knowing the ball was floating a little bit, just kind of trusting my break and taking an extra step just so I could get a clean break on it, and he threw the ball, it was floating a little bit and I got underneath it."
Mills has three interceptions this year and all three have come on third down. He's the only NFL player with three third-down interceptions this year.
Overall, he ranks third in the NFL in INTs, behind only Buffalo's Micah Hyde (five) and Tennessee's Kevin Byard (four).
Sunday's INT was his first ever at home.
“Finally got it," he said. "Great feeling, man. I really can’t even explain it. Seeing the crowd going crazy, my teammates jumping on me, I really couldn’t celebrate because I was getting pulled down. I really can’t even explain that feeling."
Mills is only the fourth player the Eagles have drafted in the seventh round or later with three or more interceptions in a season in the last 25 years. The others are Mark McMillian in 1995 and Kurt Coleman and Jamar Chaney in 2011.
And he's got half a season to go.
"Somebody asked me before the season who was going to have a breakout season this year and I said Mills," McLeod said.
"Just his approach in the offseason, how he worked, the things that he fixed from last year, from film study to his technique, and you just see it all unfolding.
"He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and once you have that in this league as a cornerback, the sky’s the limit, and you just see his confidence growing every single week, and as a cornerback that’s something you want to have, and he’s got it right now."

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

When you’re in salary cap hell, you have to be creative when building a roster.

And one tactic Howie Roseman used when putting together the Eagles team that begins training camp Thursday is signing a handful of no-risk, high-reward guys.

Players trying to revive their careers. Players trying to reclaim past glory. Players running out of chances.

These are no-risk, high-reward guys. They could become contributors, but if it doesn’t work out? The Eagles can release them before the season with modest or no cap ramifications.

When you’re in salary cap hell, you can’t sign all the free agents you want. So you sign the free agents that you can. And you do that by signing players nobody else wants. Guys with no leverage.

One tool Roseman likes to use is the NFL’s minimum-salary benefit, which gives teams some salary cap relief when they sign veteran players to certain deals.

The minimum-salary benefit can be used only for veterans with at least four years of experience who sign one-year minimum-wage deals with combined bonuses equalling $90,000 or less. 

Here’s a look at four of these no-risk, high-reward players the Eagles added this offseason.

Markus Wheaton

The Eagles signed Wheaton to a one-year deal with a $790,000 base salary (sixth-year minimum) with a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus but a cap number of $720,000, thanks to the minimum-salary benefit.

If the Eagles release Wheaton before the season, he would count just $90,000 against the cap, the value of his two bonuses.

Wheaton is only 27 and should be in his prime but has done nearly nothing the last two seasons after two very good years.

In 2014 and 2015, he combined for 97 catches for 1,393 yards, seven touchdowns and a 14.4 average. He had seven catches of 40 yards or more during those two years. Pretty good production.

But the last two years, Wheaton had just seven catches for 102 yards and one TD for the Steelers and Bears.

If he’s healthy and can be even half the player he was in 2014 and 2015, he could really help as a fourth receiver.

Matt Jones

The Eagles signed Jones to a two-year, $1.51 million deal that includes base salaries of $705,000 this year and $805,000 next year with no bonus money, which means no dead cap money if he’s released.

Even though Jones’ deal is not subject to the minimum-salary benefit, his base salaries of $705,000 and $805,000 are minimum wage for a third-year veteran in 2018 and a fourth-year vet in 2019.

Jones was one of the NFL’s best running backs the first half of 2016. Through seven games, he had 460 yards and a 4.6 average with three TDs. In a mid-October win over the Eagles at FedEx Field, he ran for 135 yards, the most rushing yards against the Eagles the last two years.

But he hurt his knee and never got his job back, then was released before last season. He resurfaced with the Colts but had only five carries all year.

Jones is only 25 and is a good enough receiver that he caught 19 passes for 304 yards and a TD as a rookie reserve.

With LeGarrette Blount gone, Jay Ajayi on a pitch count because of chronic knee soreness, Corey Clement’s role still undefined and Darren Sproles likely to be limited on offense at 35 years old, Jones will have a chance to work his way into the mix.

And if it doesn’t work out? No cap hit.

Richard Rodgers

The Eagles signed Rodgers to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus and a $720,000 cap figure, courtesy of the minimum-salary benefit rule.

If the Eagles release him, he’ll count $245,000 in dead money, the amount of guaranteed money in his one-year deal.

As recently as 2015, Rodgers caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked him 12th among all NFL tight ends in catches and fifth in TDs. But he dropped to 30 catches in 2016 and just 12 last year.

Rodgers is only 26 and should be in his prime, but he’s reached only 30 yards twice in his last 31 games.

With Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have a potent 1-2 punch, but if Rodgers can regain his form of 2015, it would give Doug Pederson even more options in a ridiculously talented array of skill players.

LaRoy Reynolds

The Eagles signed Reynolds to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $90,000 roster bonus and a reduced $720,000 cap figure.

Because there’s nothing guaranteed in his contract, the Eagles would not absorb any dead money under the cap if they release him before the season.

Reynolds, now with his fourth team in four years, has played in 68 games with seven starts. He’s only 27 and is considered an above-average special teamer and adequate depth linebacker.

The Eagles have some big question marks at linebacker, with Paul Worrilow (Reynolds’ former teammate) out for the year, Mychal Kendricks now with the Browns, Nigel Bradham suspended for the opener and Jordan Hicks able to finish one of his first three seasons.

Reynolds will have a chance to work into that mix. If not? No harm done.

More on the Eagles

Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

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Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, John Clark and Barrett Brooks are pumped for the start of training camp. Following MLB Commissioner's comments on Mike Trout's marketability, the guys discuss if it's on the player or the league to market an athlete? The Falcons said they will not give Julio Jones a new contract. At what point does a public contract negotiation become a distraction in the locker room?

1:00 - Guys are excited for the start of training camp.
4:45 - Is it on a player or a league to market an athlete?
11:00 - When does a Julio Jones contract situation become a locker room distraction?
18:00 - When money starts dividing a locker room.

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