Precedent matters: Could Patriots nab first-round pick in Stephon Gilmore trade?

Phil Perry
·6 min read

Perry: Could Pats get a first-round pick in a Gilmore trade? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Stephon Gilmore is not having the season he had in 2019. He remains, however, a very good player. He didn't go from elite to average over the course of an offseason.  

And even just by the respect he commands from opposing offenses, he remains an impact player. For instance, while his yards allowed per reception and quarterback rating allowed are up this year compared to last, he's seeing fewer targets than he did at this time last year on a per-game basis -- perhaps because he now carries with him the Defensive Player of the Year label he earned a season ago.

It appears as though the Patriots are hoping that title will command just as much respect from opposing front offices ahead of today's trade deadline. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, the Patriots are looking for a first-round pick and a player in return for Gilmore.

NFL Trade Tracker ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline

Is that realistic? It depends. Precedent matters with deals of this magnitude, yet the previously-executed deals considered good comparisons -- deals that might be precedent-setting -- may differ depending on whom you ask. 

Let's take a look at some of the possible comps . . . 

KHALIL MACK

Gilmore was 29 years old when he won Defensive Player of the Year. The 30-year-old has one-and-a-half years remaining on his contract. The only other recent Defensive Player of the Year winner who has been later dealt was Khalil Mack in 2018. 

Mack was sent to Chicago from the Raiders, along with a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder. In return, the Raiders received two first-round picks, a sixth and a third. Mack was 27 years old at the time and had one year remaining on his contract. Soon thereafter, he was the recipient of a massive contract from the Bears.

Is it a good comp? Contractually, their situations aren't all that dissimilar. Gilmore has more term on his deal, since he'd technically be under contract for the rest of this season and 2021. But Gilmore will, in all likelihood, require a new deal wherever he lands next season. In that sense, it's not a terrible comp. But Gilmore is older than Mack was when he was traded. And Mack plays a position that is largely viewed as more valuable across the NFL. 

Both came away with the highest honor a defensive player in the NFL can have. But because of Mack's age and his position, the trade that sent him to Chicago doesn't really apply here.

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JALEN RAMSEY

Ramsey plays the same position as Gilmore. He doesn't have a Defensive Player of the Year honor to his name, but he earned All-Pro honors in his second pro season at the age of 23. 

Wanting a new contract, he was dealt by the Jaguars when he was just 24 years old and with two years of team control left on his deal. Like Mack, Ramsey provided the Jaguars an absolute haul: two firsts and a fourth-round pick. 

But this isn't a great comp for a Gilmore trade, either. Despite bringing a similar level of play to the same position, Ramsey was six years younger than Gilmore is now when the Jags sent the young cover man to the Rams. Plus Ramsey had two full years of team control remaining on his deal when he was traded. The Rams eventually -- this offseason, one year after the trade -- made Ramsey among the highest-paid defenders in the game. But if they wanted to drag it out, they had Ramsey under contract for this year without doing anything to his deal. 

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Whichever team acquires Gilmore, on the other hand, will have him under contract for 2021. But it's hard to envision Gilmore playing for a $7 million base salary and $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses next year if he still views himself as among the best corners in the game. That's well below market value at that position. 

Because of Ramsey's age and the term that was left on his deal when traded, that trade isn't a great comp for a potential Gilmore deal.

DARIUS SLAY

This may end up being the closest comp for a Gilmore trade despite the fact that Slay isn't the same caliber player. 

Slay is about the same age as Gilmore and was traded before this season. The Lions sent him to Philly for a third and a fifth-round pick -- the equivalent of a high third-rounder. The Eagles soon thereafter gave Slay a new contract. 

Given their ages and respective contract situations -- with acquiring teams likely being on the hook for a new deal -- this comp is relevant. That doesn't mean it should be equal. 

The Patriots could easily argue that Gilmore is a better player than Slay, who was named to an All-Pro team back in 2017. That may be why they're reportedly requesting a return that would, in essence, split the difference between the Ramsey compensation package and the Slay compensation package. 

Curran: A Gilmore trade a matter of if, not when

Gilmore's older than Ramsey. He's better than Slay. The issue is that the chasm between the Ramsey package (two firsts, a fourth) and the Slay package (the equivalent of a third) is so vast that defining whatever would be "splitting the difference" is tough to pin down. 

A first-round pick, a player and a new contract for Gilmore would be a steep price to pay for an acquiring team. Though a franchise in desperation mode -- think about the Patriots and their trade for Mohamed Sanu last season -- may be willing to pay through the nose for the right piece. 

A second-round pick, perhaps a second and a player, might be a more reasonable return for Gilmore. We made the case as to why last week

'The Number' by Phil Perry: Gilmore's 2 pass disruptions a bit misleading

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One more reason? Waiting to trade Gilmore this offseason, while a possibility, could mean he depreciates in value. 

Gilmore's 2020 has not been as productive as his 2019. If the Patriots wait until season's end, not only would an acquiring team be getting fewer games of Gilmore, but they may be getting a player they consider less capable than the one available right now, just seven games removed from earning Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

Striking while the iron is hot may be Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio's best chance of maximizing a valuable asset as they readjust the team's books.