Even after their active free agency period the New England Patriots have only a handful of players currently under contract for the 2021 season that can be considered as “blue chip” talents. Among them is Stephon Gilmore, who is just one year removed from being named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and still one of the best cover cornerbacks in all of football.
Entering the final season of his contract while coming off a campaign shortened by injuries and a positive Coronavirus diagnosis, however, Gilmore’s name has been the subject of trade speculation throughout the offseason. While the Patriots are reportedly not actively shopping the 30-year-old and he himself is apparently open to signing a new deal in New England, a move cannot be ruled out given the circumstances and the organization’s past.
What are the arguments for or against such a rather drastic move, though? Let’s break them down.
Why the Patriots should trade Stephon Gilmore
Value: With the Patriots possibly needing to trade up from No. 15 to find their next franchise quarterback, Gilmore might be of some value as a trade chip — one whose worth will only decrease with every passing year. Add the fact that he would, at most, yield a fifth-round draft pick if leaving in unrestricted free agency next year, and you can see why New England might be willing to part ways sooner rather than later. Gilmore’s value as a trade asset will likely never be higher again, despite him coming off a challenging season.
Uncertain future: Gilmore’s future in New England is an uncertain one even if he is not dealt this week. After all, he will essentially be playing on a one-year deal and is scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason if not extended until this point. Furthermore, he already finds himself on the wrong side of 30. While that does not necessarily mean that a decline awaits, the Patriots will have to prepare for life after him anyway. So, why not speed up that process and also get something out of it?
Depth behind him: The Patriots have some questions at other positions on the roster, but cornerback remains one of the deepest at the moment. Even with Jason McCourty still a free agent, the team has plenty of talent and depth in its CB room: J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills all have plenty of starting experience in the NFL, while Joejuan Williams and Myles Bryant are candidates to see bigger roles in their third and second years in the system, respectively. Subtracting Gilmore would hurt, but the blow could be softened by...
A deep rookie class: There is a realistic chance that four cornerbacks hear their names called on the first day of the draft, with Jaycee Horn (South Carolina), Patrick Surtain II (Alabama), Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) and Greg Newsome II (Northwestern) all realistic candidates to come off the board in the first round. But even if New England does not go after a corner in Round 1 even with Gilmore gonen, there is plenty of talent to be had on the second or third days as well — talent brought in to bolster the group’s depth in 2021 and beyond.
Why the Patriots should not trade Stephon Gilmore
High-level performance: Gilmore’s 2020 was a disappointment by his lofty standards, but when he was actually healthy and on the field he still looked like one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Sure, he probably would not have defended his DPOY title, but he still showed himself capable of shutting down opposing wide receivers regardless of their skillsets and talent. Just ask Arizona Cardinals superstar DeAndre Hopkins, who was a non-factor when matched up with Gilmore on an island in Week 12. At this point, Gilmore has shown no signs of slowing down.
Positional continuity: As noted above, the Patriots have a strong overall cornerback group. However, their safety position is in a transformation process: New England lost Patrick Chung and Terrence Brooks to retirement and free agency, respectively, while Devin McCourty is also no lock to be back after the 2021 season. Keeping Gilmore around and working out a contract extension would allow the club to keep one of its most experienced defensive backs in the mix even for the foreseeable future — all while the rest of the secondary is being turned over.
J.C. Jackson: Wait, first we’re talking about the quality of New England’s cornerback group and now suddenly one of its members is a reason why Gilmore should not be traded? Yes, indeed. While J.C. Jackson is a fine starting-caliber cornerback, there are two questions tied to his name as well: 1.) Would he be ready to take over as CB1 in case Gilmore is traded? 2.) Will he even be back after the 2021 season given that he too is headed towards unrestricted free agency? With Jackson’s outlook uncertain, keeping the well-established Gilmore makes sense.
Contractual considerations: The Patriots are heading towards the draft as one of the more financially potent teams in the league: despite their free agency spending spree they still have $15.58 million to work with, according to Miguel Benzan. While trading Gilmore would add $6.89 million to that number and put New England at fifth in a league-wide salary cap space comparison, the club would also have to swallow a significant dead money charge of $8.53 million. Only three players on the payroll would have a higher cap impact this season. Gilmore’s cap hit of $16.27 million is massive, yes, but an extension would not necessarily add to it.
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