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A quick breakdown of the impact Stephon Gilmore’s restructure has on the Patriots’ salary cap

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The Patriots finally get some breathing room against the cap — but what does it mean long-term?

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

On Friday morning, ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Patriots converted $8.5 million of Stephon Gilmore’s 2019 salary into a signing bonus, clearing $5,666,667 of cap space this season. The shut-down corner’s 2019 cap hit now stands at $9,170,833 — accounting for 4.65% of the club’s adjusted cap figure this season.

With New England’s cap space sinking below the $3 million mark following their flurry of bargain signings throughout the first week and a half of free agency, Gilmore’s restructure was perhaps the second-most anticipated cap space-creating vehicle of the offseason — trailing only Tom Brady’s eventual contract extension.

The move now gives the Patriots plenty of leeway to on-board veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and to sign the club’s incoming draft class — with a few million to spare. Their cap space number now sits at just over $8 million, and with Tom Brady’s extension still on the horizon — a move that should add another $3-5 million in space — Bill Belichick now has ample room to maneuver through the trade market both prior to, and during, the NFL Draft.

But what does the move mean for the club’s future?

The restructure increases the former first-round pick’s 2020 and 2021 cap hits by $2,833,333 and $2,833,334 respectively — bringing each season’s figure to:

2020 - $18,670,833

2021 - $19,670,834

If those totals seem shockingly high and conjure up an inclination to question the economic responsibility of the transaction, consider first that Stephon Gilmore has established himself as a top-three cornerback in the NFL with his performances of the past two seasons. Presumably, further insight into how valuable such coverage skills are in today's aerial NFL shouldn’t be required. However, his value is further magnified when considering that he checks every box of the prototypical Belichickian corner— a foundational component of the coach’s defensive scheme. Gilmore — much like Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, and the ‘15 and ‘16 versions of Malcolm Butler — allows Belichick the coveted flexibility that comes with the near-elimination of a specific piece of opposing offensive personnel.

Next, if you were to project that the NFL salary cap were to rise by just $10 million per season over the next two years — to $198.2 million and $208.2 million respectively — Gilmore’s cap hits would account for 9.42% and 9.45% of the those league salary caps. For reference, there have been 87 players to have cap hits accounting for 9.45% or more of that year’s league cap since 2011. Here’s how they break down by position.

  • Quarterback: 26
  • Edge: 18
  • Wide Receiver: 13
  • Interior Defensive Lineman: 8
  • Left Tackle: 7
  • Cornerback 7
  • Off-Ball Linebacker: 5
  • Running Back: 2
  • Guard: 2

Gilmore joins the likes of Brandon Carr, Darrelle Revis, Josh Norman, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Cortland Finnegan, and Trumaine Johnson in the 9.45%+ cap hit club. As it currently stands, his 2020 cap hit is the 19th highest in the NFL, and ninth-highest among non-quarterbacks. But it’s also $2,829,167 less than Trent Brown’s will be in Oakland.

With the team expecting Gilmore to earn every dollar remaining on his contract, this restructure is simply the easiest avenue to provide a roster that is primed to win now the necessary latitude to add the finishing touches. It’s also a reaffirmation that Gilmore is likely the team’s most valuable future asset, and an essential piece of the core that New England’s future will be built around.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB