It's Looking More Likely Stephon Gilmore Will Be a Part of the Patriots Return to Glory in 2021

Al Bello. Getty Images.

It's been a strange 12 months or so for the relationship between the Patriots and the best free agent signing in franchise history, Stephon Gilmore. Coming off a DPOTY award that was proceeded by a Super Bowl winning interception (see above) the season before, you'd think everything would be sweet bliss between them. That the two sides would do the NFL equivalent of one of those anniversary parties couples throw where they surprise everyone by renewing their vows while the other wives all bite their lower lip and go, "Awwww!" and the husbands sneak off to refill their drinks and hope nobody else gets any bright ideas. 

But that's not how it tends to work in New England. For better or worse, being the perfect life partner is about more than just being loving and supportive and working off last night's chardonnay on the Peloton. No matter how caring a spouse you are and how high your butt remains, you're still expected to live within your means. There's expensive jewelry, designer bags and Karen Hill going down on Henry so he'll give her more of that wad of bills he just pulled out of his jacket in Foxboro. To keep the Patriots happy, you've got to stay within the budget. It's right there in the prenup. 

Which, now that that metaphor is exhausted, brings me back to Gilmore. Last year at this time, he leveraged his transcendent 2019 season for more money. The team more or less borrowed from the final year of the $65 million deal he signed in 2017 to pay him an extra $4.5 million last year. And it seemed like for all intents and purposes, that was it for him in New England. Just before the trading deadline last October, Gilmore's house coincidentally went on the market, then came off the market after he wasn't dealt. He now stands to make $7 million this year, which is not enough for him. And has a cap hit of almost $16 million, which is too rich for Bill Belichick's bookkeepers' blood. So a trade has felt very much inevitable. Until now. 

According to Albert Breer in SI, Gilmore ending the season on IR hasn't done his trade value any favors. And he's ready to talk extension:

First, Gilmore got hurt, and his torn quad makes it tougher for the Patriots to get fair value in a trade, and tougher for another team to make a long-term commitment. Second, the Patriots roster is a lot closer to being a contender than it was two months ago. … Bottom line: If the Patriots think Gilmore has, say, three more good years left in him (and they know better than anyone else how the 30-year-old has taken care of his body) and they don’t want to pay promising young corner J.C. Jackson like a premier DB, you can certainly see where it’d make sense. I’m also told, for what it’s worth, that Gilmore would be very open to signing a new deal in New England.

And without getting too deep into the US Open rough of NFL contract math, Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports says the numbers can be made to work:

He’s earned his money. But his pay has remained commensurate with his play. Even while Gilmore’s 2021 salary and the total value of the 2017 contract lag behind cornerback deals done since then, the deal isn’t really out of whack. 

But the one place Gilmore could feel underpaid is in average annual value. Gilmore’s is now $13M. That’s 13th-best among corners. A raise would remedy that to a degree. An extension would fix it. …

The reason is simple. As nice as it is to have quality tight ends, wideouts, linebackers and edge rushers on the field, elite secondary players – often a shutdown corner – has been a common denominator in the Patriots' six Super Bowl wins. From Ty Law to Asante Samuel to Aqib Talib to Darrelle Revis to Malcolm Butler and now Gilmore, the presence of someone who can take away an opposing team’s biggest threat is what can make a talented defense a great one.

How perfect would this be? After taking a step backwards last year, minus Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung and losing Kyle Van Noy and some others to free agency, the Patriots defense was still 7th in scoring. Yes, they lost Chung for good this time, but they've added Matt Judon, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Montravius Adams and Jalen Mills. Add to that returning second and third year players like Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Chase Winovich. Plus the veterans who didn't leave in free agency like Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. And it seems like the only thing standing between them and a return to level of 2018's No. 1 defense would be losing Gilmore. Now it's possible they don't have to.

It makes all the sense in the world for the two sides to come up with an equitable solution and keep Gilmore as the lynchpin of Steve Belichick's scheme. It's a bad time for him to leave since there are so few teams with the space to give him a raise. And for the Patriots, it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend all those Kraftbucks just to leave a hole at the CB1 spot. Yes, JC Jackson has been a human winnng Powerball ticket at the other corner spot and might be able to handle the load of the opposition's top wideout over a full season. But next year he's going to hit the open market the way Malcolm Butler did before him. So if the Pats are thinking long term, and they are never not thinking a few seasons ahead, then an extension for Gilmore is a Term Life insurance policy at one of the most important spots on the field. 

Besides agreeing on a number that works for both sides (and only in the NFL can you pay a guy more to make him count less against the cap), the biggest question is whether the coaching staff thinks Gilmore is worth the commitment at the age of 31. Whether it was battling injuries or what, he took a bigger step back year-to-year than the rest of his defense did last year. 

2019: 1 TD, 6 INTs, 47.4 Passer rating against, 4th lowest in the league

2020: 2 TDs, 1 INT, 96.7 Passer rating against, 46th lowest

Nevertheless, that's just two touchdowns in 350 total snaps and 42 targets. The fact is quarterbacks still respected him and looked elsewhere in the secondary. Despite drawing the toughest assignments every week, he played 8.3 snaps per times targeted, which was seventh fewest among corners, according to Pro Football Focus. 

If the team believes he is closer to 2019 Gilmore than 2020 him and something can be worked out, it would be huge for the immediate future. It would not only pair Gilmore once again with Jackson (4th among corners in passer rating against after leading the league in 2019), but would free up Jason McCourty (not yet resigned, but the McCourty twins are pretty much a BOGO offer) and Jonathan Jones to split the slot corner duties, allow Dugger and Adrian Phillips to handle tight ends and backs, and leave Mills available to be the versatile, positionless, game plan specific, moveable piece he was in Philly. All just by keeping one of the great corners in team history in place with a long term extension. Make it so, and let's see how much a suddenly quarterback heavy AFC East likes them apples. 


Giphy Images.