For Patriots, trading Stephon Gilmore may be a matter of 'when,' not 'if'

Tom E. Curran
·5 min read

Curran: Will Gilmore be traded? It's not if, but when originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It’s not “now or never” when it comes to the Patriots dealing cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

More accurately? It’s “when” not “if.”

Gilmore is simultaneously too good, too expensive and – frankly – too old to keep. And even if Tuesday comes and goes with Gilmore on the team and his home off the market, it’s still a longshot he plays for the Patriots in 2021.

Think about it.

These five teams could have an interest in Gilmore

If Bill Belichick couldn’t stand the thought of Tom Brady counting more than $22M against his salary cap when the cap was at $198M (which was the case), imagine how his stomach churns at the idea of Gilmore on the books for $16M against the projected 2021 cap of $175M.

And that would be presuming Gilmore was willing to play for the $7M salary he’s on the books for (the rest of the cap hit is prorated signing bonus dough). That would seem … unlikely.

Before this season began, a $5M raise for Gilmore materialized just two days before the season began against the Dolphins. In addition to the raise, there was also a $2M bonus if Gilmore repeats as Defensive Player of the Year.

Now you and I have followed the Patriots long enough to know that they don’t just flip $5M to a player for the hell of it.

Think about it. Brady was league MVP in 2017 and had taken the Patriots to consecutive Super Bowls. Before the 2018 season, he wanted a bump from the $15M salary he was set to make. The Patriots response was to dangle a carrot from a skyscraper with $5M worth of incentives he had no shot at achieving. He achieved none of them.

So of course there was wrangling on the part of Gilmore and his agent, Jason Chayut (former agent for Deion Branch) to get more money from the Patriots. And now, 2021 would represent a pay cut and I just don’t see that being real appetizing for ol’ Gillylock.

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There’s really no need to get exercised over the matter. Gilmore is the best big-ticket free agent signing of Bill Belichick’s tenure. By a lot. Once the Patriots began playing to his strengths as a lockdown corner on a Thursday night in Tampa Bay back in 2017, the Patriots defense turned a corner.

And when defensive coordinator Matt Patricia went to the Lions, Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots defense flourished. He helped seal the Super Bowl against the Rams. He was the DPOY.

But business is business the same way it was for Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Adam Vinatieri, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Logan Mankins and even Brady. That’s just how it works.

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Remember back in 2015 when we spent months wondering how they’d pay all their young defensive stars – Jones, Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Malcolm Butler? They traded two of them, let Butler walk as a free agent and let Hightower hit free agency to see what his market was before re-signing him.

Butler, Jones and Collins wound up signing deals worth a combined $200M with the Titans, Cardinals and Browns. And they were in their primes.

So you get the logic behind the conversation we’re having and the ones the Patriots reportedly have had with other teams both last April and in August according to Albert Breer of MMQB.

Which brings us back to Tuesday. The Patriots have a lot to weigh.

What can Patriots expect in return if they trade Stephon Gilmore?

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First, if they trade Gilmore, what message does that send to the rest of the team about their 2020 prospects?

The 2016 team weathered the Collins trade. The 2014 edition weathered the Mankins trade. But this is a very different year and there is no Brady around to A) give younger teammates perspective. B) make sure focus on winning remains, and C) save their ass on Sundays.

Second, what kind of Gilmore do they get for the rest of the season? He’s a tremendous coverage player but – after spending last night rewatching every snap of the 49ers game – let’s just say he’s not playing with reckless abandon.

Third, how much is enough in compensation? They’re not getting a first in return so settle down on that. And a second-rounder may be a pipe dream as well given the eventual contractual situation his new team will be dealing with.

Perry: Belichick sounds happy with Gilmore ahead of trade deadline

Unless Belichick benevolently decides to send Gilmore to a good home as he did with Jimmy Garoppolo (somehow I doubt that happens), it behooves him to maximize return. And if the return isn’t good enough now, you wait.

Next April at the draft. Next August near the end of training camp. Both would be reasonable possibilities if the Patriots choose to move on.

Bottom line, if the Patriots are going to move on from Gilmore in 2020, the price has to be right. And if it’s not there’s no reason to move Gilmore now if it isn’t. There’s still time for that.