New England Patriots: Time to make decision on Stephon Gilmore

Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

For all of the work the New England Patriots have done this offseason, they have ignored the issue of Stephon Gilmore’s contract this upcoming season.

With the Patriots mandatory minicamp kicking off Monday morning, Gilmore wasn’t present, meaning he is looking for a new deal, and it’s time for the Patriots to figure out whether they are going to redo his deal or move on from him.

After back-to-back standout seasons in 2018 and 2019, which he capped off with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019, Gilmore had a down year of sorts in 2020.

Obviously, it was going to be tough to follow up his standout 2019 performance, but it never felt like Gilmore came close to reaching those same heights he hit the previous year. Opposing quarterbacks were completing more passes when Gilmore was in coverage, and his tackling had regressed despite fewer opportunities, as he posted a 15.9 missed tackle percentage last season.

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Gilmore’s production was still way above the league average, but it is fair to wonder if this could be the beginning of his decline. He turns 31 in September and plays a bruising, physical style of coverage that may have started taking a toll on his body.

With the money Gilmore is seemingly set to command, is it worth shelling out a huge deal for a cornerback who may be past his prime?

What should the New England Patriots do with Stephon Gilmore?

Gilmore is set to earn $7 million this upcoming season on his current deal, which is way below his actual market value. For what it’s worth, the average of the top five cornerback salaries is nearly $18 million, meaning his desired salary probably falls within $16-20 million per year.

After their hectic offseason, the Patriots have just over $16 million in salary cap left, so they would have to get crafty to avoid using all their cap space on Gilmore if they opt to hold onto him.

Part of the reason New England has been so hesitant to redo Gilmore’s contract is because of how much depth they have at the cornerback position. Gilmore missed five games last season, but the Patriots had enough depth at cornerback to overcome his absence for the most part.

J.C. Jackson had a breakout season with nine interceptions, Jonathan Jones is one of the best slot corners in the game, and now the Patriots have guys like Jalen Mills, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger who can play all over the secondary.

With all these guys in place, is it necessary to shell out an inordinate amount of money on Gilmore? Jackson showed the ability to at least hold his own against the opposing team’s top wideouts and will be set for an extension of his own shortly as well.

And with all the other chess pieces coach Bill Belichick has in the secondary, you have to believe he could put together a solid defense, even without Gilmore.

It would be very anti-Belichick to shell out a ton of money on Gilmore, which could make a trade more likely. Gilmore has been the subject of some trade speculation this offseason, and with him holding out now, he could end up forcing his way out of New England.

Unfortunately, Gilmore’s trade value takes a hit now that he’s holding out. Other teams know that he is unhappy with his current deal and unwilling to play for his current salary, which takes all the leverage away from New England if they were to move him.

We just saw Julio Jones, who is 32 and had publicly requested a trade, only net the Atlanta Falcons a second and fourth-round pick despite his status as one of the best wide receivers in the league.

Similar to Gilmore, Jones also just came off a down season for him, which also hampered his trade value. With that in mind, it seems reasonable for the Patriots to take a look at what the Falcons got for Jones and use that as the starting point of what they should expect to get for Gilmore in a trade.

If Gilmore is to be traded, the best case scenario for New England would be to hope that a number of cornerback needy teams would come to the table and drive up the price. The Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys immediately stand out as two teams in need of some secondary help and could look to help improve their playoff odds by swinging a deal for the All-Pro cornerback.

Regardless of which way the Patriots front office decides to go with Gilmore, they have clearly dug themselves into a hole with this situation by choosing to wait to do anything about it. They could have avoided the situation entirely by extending him earlier in the offseason or maximized his value by moving him before he held out.

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Now, the Patriots find themselves with an unhappy star player, and a decision on his future must be made sooner rather than later.