The Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots have had curious personnel decisions in the past, but the Stephon Gilmore situation takes the cake.
It’s hard to imagine getting less value for a player who is at or near the top of the league at his position. Think about the trades that Belichick has been criticized for before this. He traded Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick; Chandler Jones for Jonathan Cooper and a second; Logan Mankins for a fourth-rounder and Tim Wright; and Richard Seymour for a first. Those are all significantly better than Wednesday’s trade with the Carolina Panthers. The best thing you can say about the move is that Gilmore didn’t go to an AFC contender that is going to crush you in the playoffs, though I’m sure the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year now has Nov. 7 circled on his calendar.
There are multiple factors as to why this is the worst of all the decisions Belichick has made, but the biggest one is that we all knew that it was coming. Both Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are both going to be free agents after this season, and it was going to be impossible for the Patriots to sign both starting cornerbacks. We knew that, they knew that, everyone knew that. Instead of moving on from one of them in the offseason, however, the Patriots decided to hold onto both of them.
Jackson has looked like a true No. 1 corner this season, which means he’s getting paid accordingly next offseason. That is going to force the Patriots to have to make a tough decision on the tendered restricted free agent, but they should’ve never have had to make Wednesday’s decision on Gilmore.
I’m sure you can point to March as a reason why the Patriots were forced to move on. They no longer have a ton of cap space because they gave it to all the free agents now on the books. But they knew exactly what their cap space would look like moving forward. There was zero reason to hold off on trading Gilmore during the draft. I’m sure the offers that they got for the 31-year-old that April weekend might not have been up to their liking, but I’m also sure that they were all better than a 2023 sixth-round pick. By trying to wait for the best possible return, they got the worst possible return. Belichick is usually better at reading the market than that.
The other thing to consider is that Gilmore wanted, and deserved, a new contract. With the Patriots unable and unwilling to give him more money after last year’s $4.5 million advance, a trade made all the sense in the world. There was almost no reason to keep him around, especially since you would get a chance to see if Jackson had what it took to be the CB1 in New England. You did get a chance to see that, but only because Gilmore started the season on the PUP list because he was hurt/holding in.
It’s hard to fathom how the Patriots ended up here. They saw the writing on the wall for at least a year. They had a reset season in 2020 and are starting a rookie quarterback in 2021. And yet, they refused to move on from a player who was coming off a quad injury and wanted a new contract.
New England has no one to blame for this situation other than themselves. The defense has played well without Gilmore, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the organization had a valuable asset, knew it was going to lose value, and just continued to hold onto it anyway.
Not having Gilmore makes the team worse, but not getting even close to a good return for him compounds the issue.