The Stephon Gilmore saga continues. It remains a mystery when or if Gilmore will return to the Patriots, but his latest statement on Twitter certainly doesn’t make it seem like the two sides are any closer to a resolution. After missing OTAs and mandatory minicamp, Gilmore not-so-subtly confirmed the speculation that his absence was indeed a contract holdout.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said at minicamp that he’s been in communication with Gilmore and that the former Defensive Player of the Year is “still a part of this team”. McCourty’s statement, while encouraging to some, is nothing more than a non-answer. Gilmore is technically still on the roster, sure, and from a bookkeeping standpoint he’s still “a part of the team”, but whether Gilmore feels that way in spirit and whether that will remain the case going into the season are both very much in question.
The problem for the Patriots is it feels like the time to trade Gilmore has come and gone. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that the team was exploring packaging Gilmore in a trade to help them move up in the first round of the draft in April, a deal that ultimately wouldn’t have been worth doing unless their target was Justin Fields. Nevertheless, dealing a talented, older player for draft pick capital is a rather standard move and would’ve made a lot of sense for the Patriots who are in desperate need of an influx of young talent. However, there’s no clear reason why such a deal wouldn’t have happened before this year’s draft if a fair offer was made considering the rumors surrounding a potential Gilmore trade date back to last October. The team had ample time to negotiate, but nothing ever came to fruition. Others speculated that a trade sending Stephon Gilmore to Atlanta along with additional assets for Julio Jones was a logical swap for both sides, but with Jones in Tennessee now, there aren’t any other obvious trades that are immediately appealing from a Patriots perspective and the rumor mill has run dry.
At this point, it’s fair to wonder what the Patriots plan is with Gilmore and criticize them for not acting more swiftly and decisively as their options on what to do with Gilmore continue to dwindle. The available cap space that other teams around the league possessed to both absorb Gilmore’s current deal and offer him the extension he desires has been mostly used up. The fact that Gilmore is coming off a torn quad doesn’t exactly help his trade value either. With teams solidifying their rosters for training camp and looking to move past the offseason to focus on the season ahead, a deal materializing for Gilmore is becoming more and more unlikely by the day. Where does that leave the Patriots if Gilmore’s holdout persists?
One option is to pay him, but historically, it’s not in Bill Belichick’s nature to give big contracts to older corners. Gilmore is set to turn 31 in September. That is the exact same age that Ty Law was when the Patriots released him. It’s also only one year older than Darrelle Revis was when New England declined to pick up the option year on his contract and let him hit free agency. The Patriots have no problem letting older cornerbacks leave the team, and Gilmore is likely no different.
The status of cornerback J.C. Jackson is also a major factor in this conflict. Jackson is on a one-year deal after signing his RFA tender back in April. If the Patriots have confidence in their ability to sign Jackson to a long-term deal next offseason, that may empower them to move on from Gilmore sooner rather than later with a successor already in place. This was the case in both 2005 when they had Asante Samuel to take the reins as the number one corner from Ty Law and in 2015 when Malcolm Butler did the same upon the departure of Darrelle Revis.
If the Patriots are dead set on not paying Gilmore and Gilmore is dead set on not playing until he gets a new deal, it’s hard to imagine Gilmore will take the field in a Patriots uniform this season. If trading Gilmore becomes an impossibilty for one reason or another which could range from other teams also being unwilling to offer him the contact he wants or being wary of his injury and age, perhaps they will ultimately have to cut him to avoid the distraction he’d bring all season long. It feels drastic, but it’s far from unprecedented. Bill Belichick has cut the likes of Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, and Willie McGinist. He’s likely very prepared to do the same with Gilmore if that’s what it comes to.
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