Over the next two weeks, all NFL teams will take the first significant step towards the start of the 2021 season as training camps begin across the country. The New England Patriots will do the same with camp slated to open on July 28. That means they essentially have nine days to figure out what to do with star cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore did not report to OTAs or any other team activities this summer because of issues with his contract. The former Defensive Player of the Year is heading into his ninth NFL season coming off a torn quad and is set to make $7 million in 2021. That's a good chunk of dough but would only rank seventh among all corners in base salary and is much less than what even second-tier corners are making in today's league when taking roster bonuses and such into account.
Gilmore wasn't the best cornerback in the league in 2020 like he was in 2019, and he is still rehabbing a fairly significant injury, but according to Albert Breer will "never" play in 2021 on what amounts to one-year deal worth $7 million. This does not come as a big surprise after Gilmore spoke to Josina Anderson earlier this month and kept it simple, saying he just wanted to be paid what he's worth.
Breer also reported this morning, though, that Gilmore and the Patriots have not made any progress towards finding a middle ground that both sides could be happy with. The cornerback won't show up to camp even if the Pats slap him with the maximum fine possible for holding out. A trade seems very unlikely because New England would have done that already were it a legitimate option; Gilmore's value is not sky-high after 2020 but he still has a reputation as an elite cornerback around the league and the Pats could have gotten a useful 2021 draft pick by sending him out before the summer. They won't trade him for nothing, either. So at this point, Gilmore is in Foxborough whether he wants to be or not.
It is now time, though, for the Patriots to just give Gilmore the money he wants. From an outside perspective, the issue probably lies in the fact that Gilmore's cap hit is still $16 million, which is the highest of all corners in the NFL. This is a consequence of the renegotiation both sides went through back in September. New England won't just give him a raise straight-up because it would increase the cap hit.
But it is not that hard to do something like what the Saints did with Taysom Hill or even what the Pats themselves did with Tom Brady, where the player received a raise but added on voidable years to their deals that helped spread the cap hit out. Maybe the stall in talks between New England and Gilmore is simply about hammering out those finer details. Whatever Gilmore wants, the Patriots should give him at this point.
As previously mentioned, New England's time to trade Gilmore is long past. His value will never be lower than it is right now, what with the entire NFL world knowing Gilmore won't play for his current salary. Even if that wasn't the case, the Patriots would be dumb to let Gilmore go. This year's team is built to win low-scoring games; even with the money Bill Belichick sunk into receivers this offseason, the defense is still the backbone of this squad and the key to making it back to the playoffs.
Gilmore may never again be the shutdown guy that won DPOY, but he's still better than average until proven otherwise. He still may very well be the best corner on the roster even with the rise of J.C. Jackson over the last few seasons. Gilmore and Jackson are an elite tandem outside the hashmarks. Getting rid of Gilmore or fining him into oblivion just because Belichick doesn't want to fork over an extra few million dollars isn't worth the impact his loss would have on the unit as a whole.
The Patriots have essentially a week and a half to give the man his money. They better get on it.