What Could the Patriots Get in Return for Stephon Gilmore?
How did we get into this position? After the official press release announced the signing of Stephon Gilmore in 2017, the prevailing thought was, “Well, this guy is the perfect Patriot and going to thrive in this system for a long time”. It started off a bit rocky, miscommunications on the back-end led to guys running free for 50+ TDs and a zone-heavy scheme led to Gilmore being unable to showcase his sticky man-coverage skills. Fast-forward a couple of seasons, with a Super Bowl win and Defensive Player of the Year award under his belt, we now find ourselves talking about where could this supremely-talented cover man be playing come 2021?
Can New England seriously be considering trading the ultimate queen piece on defense, a guy who can play the run as well as he can play the pass?
Unfortunately, it seems like there’s too much smoke around this one to make the case that there’s no fire. So what teams might make the best trading partners with the Patriots?
Trade Scenario #1: San Francisco 49ers
Gilmore would be a huge upgrade over Sherman, who has truly slowed over the last few years. Now, I’m sure I’ll get yelled at by fans who’ll point to Sherman’s recent All-Pro honor in 2019, but that is not acknowledging what Sherman’s success is tied to… an elite pass rush. He often plays with safety help over the top because if he gets beat, that guy is gone (see Sammy Watkins 30-yard catch in SB 54).
Truth is, that’s always been his game, he’s just benefited from having great defensive lines in front of him in Seattle and 2019 in San Francisco. He uses his strength to get a strong jam at the line and his length to combat any quick throws by a QB under immediate pressure. Both of which are great when the machine is running smoothly, but what happens when the rush doesn’t get there or the QB can extend the play? Well you see this guy (input youtube video).
This is where Gilmore could add a lot of value once the 49ers return their front-7 starters. He isn’t as long as Sherman, but he’s actually able to trail a receiver on more than a quick vertical route. This is the way that the 49ers can get their secondary play to match that of their defensive line, which would be a very dangerous combo with a Shanahan ball-control offensive scheme.
It’s not like the 49ers would be paying top dollar for his services anyway, at least in year 1, his cap number is little over $16M and the Patriots would have to eat about half of that to move him. $7M for a player only a couple of years removed from a Defensive Player of the Year performance and exclusive rights to negotiate a new contract with him over the 2021 season? Well, you could get 2 years of Gilmore for very low cap hits, which allows you to plug a HUGE hole and still have money to invest elsewhere.
So, who does New England target? Come on, really? Is this even a question, just read our “Road to Recovery” piece to see the “why”, but it’s a player for player swap:
San Francisco Receives: CB Stephon Gilmore
New England Receives: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Trade Scenario #2: Dallas Cowboys
Much like the 49ers, the Cowboys are in need of an elite playmaker in their secondary, which could help elevate the play of guys like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Aldon Smith (if he comes back), Trevon Diggs, etc. Gilmore’s ability to eliminate the opponent’s top target without any help opens up so many options for the secondary guys around him. Other corners can receive safety help which allows them to be more physical at the line, disrupting the timing of routes, and allowing your defensive line to get home. If the Cowboys have any hope of competing with any of the NFC’s top teams, such as Tampa or Green Bay, they’ll need to be able to matchup with their top weapons (Evans and Adams) otherwise it’ll be another year of “what ifs” in Dallas.
Let’s shift the topic to compensation. Given Gilmore’s age and contract status, anything more than a 2nd rounder is severely over-paying, BUT there will also be significant interest around the league and New England doesn’t technically need to do anything with him. They have plenty of cap room, so it’s not like they can’t afford to extend or keep him, and with 2020 hampering teams’ ability to evaluate the incoming draft class, player for player swaps might become more prevalent. So if I’m Dallas, I try to pry the former DPOY with the type of offer that seems to attract Belichick like a shiny lure to a fish, an underperforming or oft-injured player on a rookie contract.
The name I like is Leighton Vander-Esch, a linebacker built in the eyes of the Hoodie himself, a big guy that doesn’t look lost playing in space.Embed from Getty Images
So why does this make sense for Dallas? Well, he’s on the last year of his contract, unless they pick up his 5th year option, and he’s played 19 of 32 games over the last couple years. His PFF score went from 84 in 2018 (where he burst onto the scene) to an average 58 score from 2019-2020. The Cowboys probably aren’t looking to extend him. His recent play doesn’t suggest he’ll make a huge impact when he does come back, and they could add a game-changing piece in the secondary for an underachieving piece in the front-7.
And why does it make sense for New England? Again, Belichick LOVES linebackers built like defensive ends that can play the pass game (Hightower, Collins, Bentley, Uche, etc.) and he has a major need there with Hightower’s contract being up after 2021. As has often happened in the past, sometimes a change of scenery and scheme can be immensely beneficial to the development of a young player that has lost his way. At worst, the Patriots let him walk after 2021 for a player that clearly wants to be paid or wants out (the former isn’t going to happen). At best, you add elite, young playmaker to your defense who is cost controlled for the next couple seasons (if they pick up that 5th year option).
Dallas Receives: CB Stephon Gilmore
New England Receives: LB Leighton Vander-Esch
Trade Scenario #3: New York Giants
After their upset over the Seahawks in Week 13 to culminate a 4-game winning streak that seemed to make them poised to take control of the NFC East, the Giants completely crumbled down the stretch. Not necessarily for anything but the fact that they were over-achieving during that stretch, but the pieces are there, specifically on defense.
They have the makings of a great defensive line if they retain Leonard Williams and Laken Tomlinson, they have a great middle backer in Blake Martinez that plays sideline to sideline, and they have intriguing pieces in the secondary in Logan Ryan, James Bradberry, and Jabrill Peppers. The addition of a guy like Gilmore could be the piece that takes that unit from good to elite. With a lack of cap-room (about $1M – you can blame Nate Solder for that), it’ll take some finagling to make this happen, but to keep to the theme of this article, a player for player swap might be interesting.
The question becomes, who is that name? The Patriots have multiple needs (QB, LB, TE, WR) and the Giants don’t have anyone at that position that would be worth a former DPOY straight up. But, there is a name that I like and one the Giants might be willing to move on from; Evan Engram.
After drafting him 23rd in 2017, he’s failed to live up to the game-changing athlete he was supposed to be coming out of Ole Miss and running a 4.42. Part of that is he’s very raw when it comes to his route-running, he gets separation, but loses it with how he comes out of his breaks (rounded instead of a hard cut).
If New England can address that, he could EXPLODE in the right offense and become the player we all thought the Giants were adding. The problem is that he’s not a given and will require the Giants to part with more to bring in a proven commodity like Gilmore.
New York Receives: CB Stephon Gilmore & 3rd round compensatory
New England Receives: TE Evan Engram & 3rd round (76th)
Trade Scenario #4: Denver Broncos
The likelihood of Belichick trading Gilmore within the conference is minimal, but it’s still a possibility. He traded Richard Seymour to the Raiders in 2009 and Jamie Collins to the Browns in 2016, so why not again? Believe it or not, Denver considers itself a contender for 2021. You can point to the lack of an offseason and injuries as a catalyst as to why they took a turn for the worse in 2020. They’ve historically valued corners with John Elway involved in operations (Champ Bailey in ’13, Aqib Talib ’14-17, Chris Harris Jr ’18-19, AJ Bouye ’20) and Vic Fangio’s pressure defense NEEDS guys on the back-end who can cover.
Gilmore would make a lot of sense for a team that has a ridiculous amount of talent to offer defensively: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jurrell Casey, Justin Simmons, Bryce Callahan, etc. As with the Cowboys, Giants, and 49ers, Gilmore could be that final piece that puts that unit over the edge. Another big reason why Denver might step up and make this trade…their division. They have to deal with the Chiefs twice a year and so they need as many cover guys as they can get their hands on.
The Patriots might be able to add another 2nd (40) or 3rd (71) depending on where the Broncos feel cornerback falls on their list, but for reasons I’ve already expressed, draft picks just don’t hold the same weight to me in 2021 as they did in prior years. I think there is a really interesting name New England can go after that can be coupled with a free agent addition to turn a weakness into a strength: Courtland Sutton.
He’s in the last year of his rookie deal, tore his ACL in September, and the Broncos have three wideouts that impressed in his absence: Jerry Juedy, KJ Hamler, and Tim Patrick). This makes Sutton, though supremely talented, expendable. He would immediately become the Patriots top offensive target and if paired with a guy like OBJ (link to “Road to Recovery”) or top free agent addition (i.e. Chris Godwin), could make for an enticing duo for prospective quarterbacks. His ability to create separation at the top of his routes and win contested balls are two of the top qualities the Patriots look for in a receiver. As for his injury, torn ACLs just aren’t as debilitating as they once were, just ask Adrian Peterson.
Denver Receives: CB Stephon Gilmore
New England Receives: WR Courtland Sutton
Trade Scenario #5: Cleveland Browns:Embed from Getty Images
Our last option lands him in Cleveland, who has SOLD OUT, since 2018 to become a contender. Well 2021 might be their last time to cash in before they have to start paying out. Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, and Kareem Hunt will have to be paid or moved in the upcoming years.
They took positive steps in 2020 with a playoff berth and win vs their version of the “Evil Empire” the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they still are far off from being a threat to teams like Buffalo and Kansas City. Simply put, they are too weak in the secondary and inconsistent at quarterback. This is where Gilmore factors in, he slides into your top corner role, you slide help towards Greedy Williams on the opposite side, and let Denzel Ward feast in the slot. This also gives even more time for game-wreckers like Garrett and Richardson to hit home on a pass rush…and maybe even JJ Watt.
I’m not sure the likelihood of Bill trading Stephon Gilmore to a contending team in the AFC, but you can’t control who calls you, only whether you take the offer. So, do the Patriots look to kill two birds with one stone and make an offer you can’t refuse for OBJ? It’s easy for Cleveland to scoff at a middle round pick (which IS OBJ’s value at this point), but for a former DPOY, yeah that’s a much quicker “can we part with the talent” conversation.
Listen, New England doesn’t have to, but definitely will, off-load Gilmore. Why? Well, he complained about his contract, which NEVER sits well with Belichick, i.e. Randy Moss, Tom Brady, and Jamie Collins. I don’t want the 59th player in a draft for a former DPOY, especially since Belichick can’t get one right, no, instead give me the upside of OBJ. Give me the cost-controlled (no guaranteed cash), former 1500-yard game changer that Bill drooled over for years. According to OTC, you also help to offset his cap hit in 2021 by swapping Gilmore for him:
|Odell Beckham Jr||$ 15,750,000.00|
|Stephon Gilmore||$ 7,343,750.00|
|Net Cap Hit||$ 8,406,250.00|
Potentially gaining a legitimate threat on offense for $8.4M, well, this gives New England the flexibility to go after other top free agents such as JJ Watt, Hunter Henry, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, while not over-extending themselves going into 2022.