MAQB: Stephon Gilmore's Holdout Will Be Tricky for the Patriots to Resolve

After spending a record amount of guaranteed money in free agency to fix all that went wrong in 2020, the Patriots are now tasked with trying to get their best player back. Plus, a look at vaccinations among players, what to make of Jamison Crowder's pay cut and more notes from around the league.
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With the last week of the offseason program underway, let’s jump in …

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• Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore became the second official holdout of the spring (joining Aaron Rodgers, of course), with his decision not to show for the team’s veteran mandatory minicamp. And as we said in the MMQB column this morning, that should surprise no one. To just about everyone watching in the NFL, it was obvious when the Patriots moved $5 million in cash from 2021 to ’20 that there was roughly no chance the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year was going to play for the $7.5 million left on the final year of his deal. So the numbers you need here? After advancing that $5 million last year, the tab on Gilmore’s first four years in New England ran up to $56.65 million, or $14.16 million per year. And Gilmore can make the argument that even at that price, the Patriots got a bargain. There are currently seven guys at his position making more than that, including James Bradberry. So where the Patriots might say, “We helped you out last year,” Gilmore could respond, “You got closer to what I’m actually worth.” And while his age (31 in September) and injury status (coming back off a torn quad) objectively hurt his value, and Bill Belichick could turn this into a staring match, there’s also this to consider: Belichick just spent a record amount of guaranteed money (about $160 million) in free agency to fix all that went wrong in 2020, and I’d bet his boss (yes, he has one) will be looking for a return on that investment. Losing Gilmore would mean going from having a top-five group at corner to being very vulnerable at a spot you don’t want to be. And with J.C. Jackson also in a contract year, the future is even murkier there. This one won’t be easy, and I’ll repeat what I’ve said, that I don’t see Gilmore playing at his current number. I think Darius Slay’s contract in Philly is around the price to get a long-term deal done. Maybe Gilmore will take some sweeteners to report, in lieu of a long-term deal, like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski once did. Either way, something is going to have to happen for New England to get its best player back.

• Had to wonder what Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton were thinking on Monday when hearing Belichick chalking players’ absences up to “weather.” For those who don’t remember … those are the four guys who were late to work in 2009 due to a blizzard, and you may remember that they were not pleased about being booted from the facility for the day for it. This quote, from Thomas that week, remains solid gold: “I mean, I could've been in a ditch. They really don't give a damn. Hey, as long as you aren't in that meeting, they really don't give a [bleep]. … There's nothing to apologize about. I wasn't trying to be late. I don't know what to say. You leave home, there are people there, cars sitting in the road, you're sitting there, what are you gonna do? It's not the Jetsons. I can't jump up and fly. What am I supposed to do?" (The Boston Herald ran an illustration of Thomas in a Jetsons car the next day. Just an amazing week in Foxboro.)

• The positive COVID-19 test K’Lavon Chaisson turned in this week should be another warning sign for players that the time to get the vaccine is now. Chaisson was reportedly at Von Miller’s pass-rush summit this weekend in Vegas. I don’t know whether he’s vaccinated. But I do know he’d have a better shot of avoiding that fate if he is, and in this scenario all the other players at Miller’s event who aren’t vaccinated would be at-risk of getting knocked off their rosters for the time being due to contact tracing. It’s easy to forget all the little (relative) nightmares that teams dealt with during the 2020 season, mostly because everyone was under the same circumstances. That may not be the case this year, so it’s pretty easy to see where a team that’s lagging on vaccinations could wind up in a Broncos quarterbacks or Saints running backs situation. Which is to say it won’t be long until there’s a competitive advantage to be had, if the numbers don’t tick up league-wide among players. And that starts sooner than you think—if you get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, you’d need five weeks to be fully cleared for a “normal” camp (three-week waiting period between shots, and then two weeks after the second shot). Most teams report July 27, which is six weeks from Tuesday.

• While we’re there: I’m told, as of Monday afternoon, 16 of the NFL’s 32 teams have 51 or more players either fully vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated. And I can say that the league wishes those numbers were higher.

• It sucks that Jamison Crowder got stuck in this position, having to make a call on a pay cut three months after free agency began, but he was smart to work with the Jets on a revision to his deal. New York, having taken a slot receiver (Elijah Moore) with tge 34th pick, made the call that it couldn’t pay Crowder the unguaranteed $10.5 million he was due this year. And it’d be easy for any player to draw a line in the sand there. But given the juncture of the year we’re at, with rosters mostly filled out; and the conditions we’re under, with COVID-19 having crunched the salary cap; this makes sense (I’ve heard he’ll make around half of what he was slated to, with a chance to get more back in incentives, which isn’t great but is probably more than he’d have gotten as a summer free agent). Crowder basically gets what he could realistically hope for, and will be ready to be at his best in a new offense with which he’s familiar. That way, next March, he can make back some of what he’s giving up now.

• News that the Raiders are moving their minicamp practices up because of extreme heat in Nevada this week makes you wonder how having training camp over the summer there is going to work. At one point, the team was in discussions on moving camp to Reno, before going back to Napa for one last summer in 2019. Obviously, last year was different because of COVID-19. We’ll see if keeping camp near Vegas in the summer is a long-term play or not. My guess is they’ll look at moving it again after this year.

• The Vikings’ need to restructure Danielle Hunter’s deal ends what’s been an issue for a while—it’s actually why Minnesota needed to get Yannick Ngakoue to agree to take less last summer to complete a trade for him. The contract Hunter signed in 2018 wound up becoming dated quicker than any deal I’ve ever seen, and was widely panned in the agent community when it was signed. At the time of signing, Hunter was locked up through 2023 on a five-year extension worth $72 million. That’s $14.4 million per year in new money. Two months later, fellow edge rusher Khalil Mack, also in contract year, did a deal worth more than $9 million more than that per year ($23.5 million per). And as you might imagine, the Hunter deal only looked worse with time, and made things more awkward between team and player. Good that it’s taken care of now.

• For all the crap the NFLPA caught for rattling cages in April on the nature of voluntary workouts, now, looking back, it’s abundantly clear the union made an impact. The PA, to be clear, didn’t get concessions from the owners directly, but the threat of losing the entire offseason program was enough to motivate coaches to negotiate revised work rules directly with their players. As a result, most teams didn’t do any full-speed 11-on-11 work over the last nine weeks, and a few shortened their programs dramatically. Will it lead to changes during training camp, too, with perhaps something like the more deliberate ramp-up period players got last year due to COVID? Maybe. But what’ll be more significant to follow, to me, is whether this really does have an impact on player safety in the here-and-now, and player longevity over time.

• The Ravens’ promotion of Nick Matteo to VP of football administration is worth noting here. Matteo’s only been working for Baltimore for two years, and that’s his only team-side experience—he previously had been in the league office. Despite that, though, Matteo landed a GM interview in Carolina in January and now this promotion. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard NFL SVP of labor relations Peter Ruocco has been a champion of Matteo’s, and was a factor in Matteo’s getting the Panthers interview. And all this makes Matteo a name to watch moving forward, with some teams more curious about people who aren’t traditionally trained scouts for GM spots.

• Pay attention to this quote from Jaguars CB Shaquill Griffin’s Monday Zoom: “I feel like the main thing I've been seeing is he's very explosive, so when the ball is out it's out. When you see him throwing, even if I'm out on the sideline, I'm watching him throwing to different receivers. It's just the rotation of the ball. The time. The way he's putting it away from everybody. It's just insane to see that so early in a quarterback. You talk about coming into the league with such high hopes, and he's proving that.” To me, this is another reminder that as good as Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones might be, Trevor Lawrence entered the draft process as a different sort of quarterback prospect and was the same guy leaving it. Expectations should be high in Jacksonville. And I’ll say again what so many scouts have said to me the last two-plus years: John Elway. Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck. Trevor Lawrence. That’s not referencing what Lawrence will become. It’s about the point at which he is coming into the league—a once-in-a-decade type of talent for his position.

• Congrats to the Buccaneers’ PR people on winning the Rozelle Award, given annually to the league’s best PR department by the Pro Football Writers Association. And it’s well-deserved for Nelson Luis and their crew. They were handed one of the biggest stories in sports just as the pandemic started in the U.S., and handled it through the weirdest training camp of all-time and a very trying season for everyone. That season, of course, extended all the way to the Super Bowl for the Bucs, as they became the first team in league history to host the big game. A mountain of work for them, for sure, and it’s good to see that recognized.

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