Jalen Mills is thoroughly enjoying his offseason, a time where his schedule leaves plenty of room for spontaneity.
His latest adventure was a long time in the making, though.
"It's definitely been a fun one," Mills said of his offseason, one day after posting a photo of him swimming with sharks off the coast of Florida to social media. "This is the time where I can do all the crazy stuff and that's how I take advantage of it."
The New England Patriots cornerback, celebrating his 28th birthday Wednesday, recently took a ride from Doral north to Riviera Beach where a charter boat brought Mills and his girlfriend a half-hour off the coast to swim with lemon sharks.
The experience wasn't at all frightening for Mills, who always has admired one of the ocean's most feared predators. He'd previously shared a swimming hole with tigers and elephants and cozied up next to a cheetah – all well documented on his Instagram.
But in the open water with sharks, Mills says he felt right at home.
"When I got into the water, I jumped right in -- like literally jumped right in. I kind of felt at peace, as crazy as it sounds, when I was in the water," Mills said, noting that some of his tattoos pay homage to his favorite sea creature.
"I have a full leg sleeve of just sharks. We were in the water with lemon sharks, but my leg sleeve is just straight great whites. I don't think I want to go free swimming with those, they're a little bit more on the dangerous side. But I've always been interested in sharks. I always wanted to swim with sharks, and I got an opportunity to do it out here in Florida."
The symbolism of his tattoo and desire to complete that bucket-list goal stem from an analogy Mills has used as motivation.
"A shark always swims forward, and that's kind of my mindset," Mills said. "I always want to look forward. I always want to see what's ahead of me. I don't really want to care what's behind me. And sharks, as long as they live, the more than eat, the bigger they'll grow. And I kind of put that into an analogy. As long as I live, I want to learn new things, I want to do new things, I want to expand my mind, my way of living.
"Also, I think that they're misunderstood. And I've kind of been a player that I feel, I have been misunderstood on the field for playing with so much energy and passion and swagger. Sometimes it can be misunderstood as cockiness instead of confidence, you know? So just the full definition of a shark: always moving forward, always growing, you know, and that is just something I feel symbolizes me in a way."
For a seventh-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft who is entering his seventh season in the league, it's easy to see why he carries that chip on his shoulder -- right underneath a head full of bright green hair.
Through his preparation, he managed to overcome adversity and exceed expectations in his career. He credits that preparedness as his source of confidence and is looking forward to Year 2 after his first playoff run in New England was cut short.
Individually, he ended the season on a high note, allowing nine catches on 23 targets for 79 yards in his last nine games of the regular season. But this season presents new challenges.
"We had a lot of potential," Mills said of last season. "We work. We had a young quarterback coming in and he did a phenomenal job. And our defense, we started clicking towards the end of the year. Ended up falling short in the playoff game, but you know, it's year two."
Just like a shark, Mills is more focused on what is ahead.
"I'm more comfortable within the scheme," Mills said. "The players, you know, we had some great additions last year and this year. So I just think to see exactly what our team is once we get our identity, I think the sky will be the limit."