The New England Patriots began mandatory minicamp on Monday. Notably absent was Stephon Gilmore, CB1, and former Defensive Player of the Year.
Gilmore is now officially holding out in pursuit of a new contract. The Patriots restructured his deal last offseason, making 2021 the final year of the contract with a base salary of only $7.5 million. That's a low number for a player with Gilmore's resume, even if his play dropped off in 2020 compared to his award-winning 2019 and he missed five games due to a torn quad. He wants a new contract, but the Patriots are not in a position where they are required to grant that wish, or even want to. Cornerback has not been a problem in recent years and losing a quality player like Gilmore would hurt, but wouldn't be a death knell for the secondary as a unit.
New England tends to not budge on these kind of matters, too. Bill Belichick doesn't play the contract game with anybody. So while Gilmore wants a new deal, he probably won't get it. And it does seem unlikely he'd want to play this season with that kind of contract coming off that kind of injury.
In short, the player and team have reached an impasse. A trade seems like the likeliest outcome here, given the Patriots aren't going to kowtow to Gilmore and he can definitely receive a more favorable deal from another team in dire need of cornerback help. It may be best for both sides. We addressed this possibility earlier in the offseason, but circumstances have changed around the league after the draft. If they do go down that road, here are four potential landing spots for the star corner.
The Cowboys have a tight cap situation, which would make it difficult to trade for Gilmore and his $16.5 million cap hit in 2021 outright. But a trade followed by an extension that spreads out that cap hit over the next two-three seasons? Now we're talking.
Dallas is in dire need of more secondary help after finishing near dead-last in every passing statistic last year. Trading a mid-round pick for Gilmore is a financial investment but one very much worth making for a team in win-now mode. The Cowboys are all-in on Dak Prescott and his band of playmakers offensively. If Gilmore hits the market, they should be first on the line with Belichick to acquire the kind of piece that could make the difference between a bad defense and a fine one, which is often the difference between winning the division and missing the playoffs outright.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers lost Casey Hayward in free agency, and while Gilmore isn't a one-to-one replacement for Hayward's skillset, he would be a quality veteran addition for a young team brimming with talent on both sides of the ball. L.A. has all of their draft picks to work with and the extension that would come along with the trade shouldn't break the bank over there.
Really, there are two primary motivations for why the Chargers should do this. One, they have a good quarterback on a rookie deal and should be doing everything they can to maximize that cheap window, even if a deal like this doesn't vault them from possible playoff team to legitimate title contenders. Two, that big expensive stadium the Spanos just built was empty all last season and butts need to be put in seats. Acquiring a high-profile name like Gilmore would help do that, and he still has a lot to offer to an average defense like the Chargers. Gilmore isn't stopping the dangerous air attack of the divisional rival Chiefs by himself, but every little bit helps.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are kind of like a combination of the two teams above. They're absolutely in win-now mode, given they made it all the way to the Super Bowl two years ago and have kept the core mostly together since then. They also might be starting a QB on a rookie deal sometime soon if Trey Lance steps up or if Jimmy Garoppolo gets hurt again. Both are good enough reasons to trade for Gilmore.
The main issue here is that the draft pick cupboard is rather dry after trading up to get said QB on a rookie deal. If New England is willing to accept a fourth-round pick or a combination of lower picks to get rid of Gilmore, the Niners are a logical destination given Belichick's relationship with GM John Lynch. Should the situation arise where New England needs to dump Gilmore, San Francisco makes sense.
This doesn't make any sense for the Texans. There's no reason to trade for a big-money cornerback when a full-on rebuild is desperately needed. Houston's defense was horrifically bad last season, but that'll be fine next season when they finally own all of their draft picks and will be rewarded for awful play in the form of a high selection in 2021.
On the other hand, Nick Caesiro left New England to be the Texans' GM, and one cardinal rule about former Patriots employees going to work elsewhere is they always bring in ex-Patriots. It is not hard to envision a scenario in which Caesiro talks himself into Gilmore as a good veteran locker room presence who can help the secondary be respectable and can be acquired for mid-round picks that won't make or break the drafting success of the franchise. They certainly have the money to give him an extension given the complete lack of big contracts on the roster outside of Deshaun Watson and David Johnson. It wouldn't be a smart move, but does it make sense? Yes it does, reader. Yes it does.