Stephon Gilmore is only one year removed from winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year as a cornerback, an incredibly impressive feat. His 2019 season was nearly immaculate, so it was inevitable that 2020 would bring a slight slide in play. That is what happened as Gilmore recorded only three passes defended and one interception in 11 games before going down with a season-ending quad injury.
Gilmore will forever be one of Bill Belichick's most successful free-agent signings. He is now in the final year of his contract and, with no extension on the horizon, the New England Patriots are reportedly considering moving their All-Pro cornerback. Dianna Russini reported yesterday that the Pats may try and use Gilmore to leap into the top-10 of the NFL Draft this coming Thursday. There have been rumblings all offseason, so it ultimately comes as no surprise, especially given Belichick's recent track record of developing unheralded secondary players into stars.
Gilmore is 30 years-old and still has a few good seasons left, although it wouldn't be surprising if his quad injury sapped him of his ability to be one of the best lockdown corners in the NFL. He's a useful trade asset that New England could use in lieu of draft picks to move up this Thursday, but he could also be used as a chip for something more. Here are four realistic landing spots for the corner.
Albert Breer reported earlier this week that New England and Carolina have laid the groundwork for a potential trade already in case the Pats see someone they like tumble into the latter half of the top-10. It would make sense to include Gilmore. Matt Rhule is a defense-first guy and the Panthers spent literally all of their draft picks on defenders in 2019 to try and transform the defense. It worked out alright, since Carolina ended the season ranked No. 15 in total pass yards allowed in 2020. They could still use an upgrade in the secondary, especially in a division featuring Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, not to mention Sean Payton's offensive genius.
The Patriots probably wouldn't have to attach a future first if they include Gilmore, although just him alone wouldn't be enough to move up seven spots. Who, exactly, they would target in this scenario is a mystery, but it more than likely won't be a cornerback. If they're going to move Gilmore, it seems Carolina is a willing dance partner.
The Broncos hold the No. 9 pick in the draft and don't need secondary help as badly as the Panthers, but Vic Fangio wouldn't pass on the chance to add another good player to his defense if Denver doesn't like who's on the board when they're on the clock. Should the Broncos desire to pass on all the offensive talent at the top of the draft and want to go defense, moving six picks down to No. 15 won't hurt in that pursuit since there isn't a lot of top-end defenders available in the top-10 this year. I don't know how likely this is, since new GM George Paton might just want to stand pat(on) and make the pick, but it wouldn't be a surprise.
This feels like the most likely trade scenario. Belichick doesn't tend to make huge leaps during the rare times he actually trades up in the draft. He moves up a few slots and doesn't give up anything substantial. A trade up to No. 10 with Dallas would qualify as more of a Belichick move than going further into the top-10. The Cowboys should be very interested in something like this because they need secondary help more than anything. While staying put and choosing a CB at No. 10 would possibly give them a very talented player at a reasonable rate for the next five years, it's unlikely they'll enter 2021 as good as Gilmore is right now. Having just signed Dak Prescott to a gigantic deal, America's Team is under pressure to win big and win big right now.
Dropping to 15 would keep Dallas in the running for the two top corners in the draft while adding a seasoned secondary player with a rather high floor to Dan Quinn's new defense. Shifting into a more zone-dominant defense would help Gilmore along in his recovery. The Patriots would probably only have to attach a fourth-round pick or worse along with the No. 15 pick to move up to 10, so it's not an expensive move. It's a smart trade for both sides.
San Francisco 49ers
No, the Patriots wouldn't try to package Gilmore with a haul of firsts to go all the way to No. 3, and the Niners have zero interest in doing that even if they don't know who they're going to take yet. That's not what this trade is. This would be a Jimmy Garoppolo trade.
Kyle Shanahan was rather defensive when asked about Garoppolo's spot on the roster in 2021 and said he could be dead by Sunday, which is a new way of avoiding answering a question about if he'll be on the team in a week. San Francisco is definitely picking a quarterback and have said all the right things about the comfort of having a solid vet like Jimmy G to start above a rookie, but it's all just noise. The Niners didn't spend this much draft capital to draft a quarterback who won't play until 2022. They're going to try and trade Garoppolo.
The Patriots want him back, but only for the right price. Sending out Gilmore and a low-round pick would be a good matching of salaries for both sides, gives the Niners a substantial return in the form of an impact player for Garoppolo, and the Pats get their guy back. If New England doesn't dangle Gilmore to jump a few spots in the draft, he will be the centerpiece of any Garoppolo offer they put together.