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Assessing what the recent cornerback extensions mean for Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots

Related: The Scho Show: What to watch for in the Patriots’ season opener against the Dolphins

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Just a few days after the Buffalo Bills made Tre’Davious White the highest paid cornerback in the NFL, the market was reset again: the Los Angeles Rams and Jalen Ramsey agreed to a five-year extension worth a total of $105 million. The deal makes Ramsey the first player at his position to earn a yearly average of more than $20 million.

Compared to those recent contracts, the one signed by Stephon Gilmore back in 2017 is a bargain from his team’s perspective.

Back then, the New England Patriots brought the former first-round draft pick on board via an unrestricted free agency pact worth $65 million over five years — a major investment by the team, but one that has paid enormous dividends since: Gilmore developed into the NFL’s best cornerback with the Patriots, helped bring a Super Bowl to New England, and was voted the league’s Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Despite Gilmore being the gold standard for cornerback play since his first year with the Patriots, 10 other players at his position have since signed deals at a higher average annual value than his $13 million.

This begs the question: What is on the horizon for the 29-year-old and the Patriots, and could the recent extensions have an impact on the two?

Gilmore is still playing on that aforementioned five-year deal, but it has been altered multiple times over the last three years — most recently last March — to create short-term salary cap flexibility for the Patriots. As a result of this latest renegotiation, his salary cap impact for 2020 is the highest on the team: he hits New England’s books with $18.67 million. No cornerback in the NFL has this high a cap hit, but there is more to a contract than just one number.

A large part of Gilmore’s cap hit, for example, is his signing bonus proration of $7.67 million. His salary and roster bonuses, meanwhile, combine for “only” $11 million. For comparison, 15 other corners rank higher in this category than the veteran.

Is the Patriots’ top cornerback in any way bothered by this? There is no indication whatsoever that that is the case. While he did miss some time in training camp, both he and head coach Bill Belichick later noted that his absence was excused and that Gilmore had to attend a personal matter.

That being said, the cornerback market’s ceiling being raised significantly first by White and later by Ramsey will be something both the Patriots and Gilmore’s camp will have an eye on. After all, Gilmore enters the 2020 regular season as the best cover corner in the league and a true game-changer (just ask Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper). While he still has two years left on his contract, He’s also not getting any younger and his value is currently at its peak.

This means that both he and the Patriots may have to talk about another renegotiation soon.

This is where things might get tricky, though. New England’s approach to contract talks is based very much on future outlook not built around recognizing past accomplishments. If the team does not want to invest further resources in a player who will turn 30 later this month and is still under contract for two more seasons, any potential negotiations could therefore become tricky whenever they may be kicked off — despite the team’s current salary cap space of $31.7 million.

Add the fact that fellow cornerback J.C. Jackson will also command an extension at one point over the next 18 months and it can be seen why the Patriots might be hesitant to alter Gilmore’s deal yet again.

Nevertheless, with him having shown no signs of slowing down, and the team currently among the league leaders in available resources, some adjustment might be the way to go to satisfy both parties. Whether that means adding guarantees or contract incentives, or tagging some years to the current deal, or all of them combined, the team and Gilmore both have options to work through any contract-related talks should they be initiated.

Only time will tell what comes of the situation, but if nothing else the market’s recent developments might accelerate things no matter which road the Patriots and Gilmore are eventually headed down.