Patriots Trading Stephon Gilmore Makes All the Sense in the World
By Liam McKeone
To the sheer, unadulterated joy of everyone who doesn't hail from the greater New England area, the New England Patriots appear to be on the verge of falling apart. Cam Newton has thrown five picks in the last two games, the defense got obliterated by the San Francisco 49ers last week, and the lack of talent at skill positions has never been more apparent.
Now, despite the fact that they are bad, the Patriots aren't bad enough to completely bottom out with Bill Belichick at the helm and one of the more talented defensive back groupings in the league. There's a chance Newton is just in a slump and will look more like the guy who threw for over 300 yards against Seattle in Week 2 than the guy who was benched for Jarrett Stidham in the third quarter last week. Through good coaching and average at best play, New England will probably march to around a .500 record despite sitting at 2-4 right now.
Unless, of course, they decided to look towards the future and trade what little they have to offer before the deadline on November 3. It is important to keep in mind that the NFL trade deadline is nothing like the NBA trade deadline. Football teams who realize a title is not in the cards this season don't immediately start a fire sale and ship off as much talent as possible. This is not Madden. The Patriots aren't going to trade their six best players for draft picks and accept whatever poor play is coming their way for the rest of the year.
But! They might trade a certain cornerback who doubles as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. SI's Albert Breer reported on Sunday that the Patriots have considered trading Stephon Gilmore and Breer could see the star cornerback leaving New England if a fellow GM is willing to give up a high draft pick.
That is far from a guarantee, and obviously the Patriots would be interested in trading anybody if the return is high enough. But it would make perfect sense for New England to send Gilmore elsewhere in the next week.
Gilmore has been good this year, but hasn't been at the same level as last year. Which is understandable. He had as perfect a year as any cornerback in 2019, surrounded by elite talent and the centerpiece of an excellent scheme. It would have been nearly impossible to carry over that kind of play to the next year, especially after the Patriots lost a handful of key contributors on that side of the ball after free agency and COVID opt-outs. He's still a very good cornerback, but not the best defensive player in the league anymore. His absence would still be felt, yet Gilmore alone is no longer the difference between a good and great defense.
There's also the fact that cornerback is the only position group the Patriots have that is overflowing with talent. J.C. Jackson and Jonathon Jones are really good behind Gilmore. JoeJuan Williams was a second-round pick last year who hasn't seen the field often simply because of how stacked the depth chart is. Cornerback is the only area where the Patriots can afford to lose one of their best pieces and still perform at a similar level.
Perhaps most important of all, Gilmore only has one year left on his contract after this season. With all the depth the Patriots have at DB, they likely won't re-sign him when he becomes a free agent in 2021. They could trade him next year, but the return wouldn't be as high because inquiring teams would know he was a half-year rental. Moving him now gives those teams a year and half under his current deal.
The Patriots are not a Super Bowl contender this year. Never count out Belichick, but barring Newton reverting to MVP-level play, the team's hard ceiling is a Wild Card berth followed by a first-round exit-- and even that seems extremely optimistic right now. Gilmore is a great player, but not a part of their future. As Breer points out, the writing was probably on the wall that he wouldn't be on the team in 2021 after New England moved money around and gave him a big bonus this year. Now is as good a time as ever to trade him, and the Patriots need all the picks they can get to re-stock their sparse talent cupboard at nearly every position.
There are several contending teams who could use a cornerback of Gilmore's skillset. New England will not lack for suitors should they shop the cornerback. It's time to do so.