Could Bill Belichick Do the Unthinkable and Trade Stephon Gilmore?
With the New England Patriots now in the post-Tom Brady era, it seems that Bill Belichick is doing what he can to reconfigure the roster, which involves getting younger while providing some cap relief in the process.
The Patriots let Tom Brady walk (age-42) and signed Brian Hoyer (age-34). They released veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski (age-36) and look to possibly replace him via the draft with someone over a decade younger than him. They lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy (age-28) and Jamie Collins (age-30) to free agency and will replace them with either someone already on the roster or through the draft, which will lower the age of that grouping by at least a couple years. They also lost Nate Ebner (age-31) to free agency and Benjamin Watson (age-39) to retirement.
While losing those players helped the Patriots get younger and also cleared up a bit of cap space, New England (who has about $1.10 million in available cap space as of April 6) still needs to make another move or two in order to have enough money to sign their draft picks while also leaving wiggle room to make other transactions if need be.
What if there was one more move the Patriots could make that would not only help decrease the age of their roster but also provide some cap relief this year and even more in the near future, which checks two boxes on Belichick's to-do list for this offseason? The MMQB's Albert Breer brought up this narrative in his weekly MMQB column on Monday, mentioning that corner-needy NFL teams should give New England a call to gauge their interest in trading All-Pro cornerback and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore.
"It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore. New England needs cap space—and Gilmore has an $18.67 million cap hit for this year and a $19.67 million cap hit for next year, after a 2019 restructure. But he’s only taking home $11 million in cash this year, $12 million next year, and, after that, he’s up. Gilmore’s deal, at $13 million per year, was near the top of the corner market when he signed it. Since then, he’s gotten better, and the market for defensive players has exploded. He’s now around $10 million per year short of fellow DPOYs Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald. And it stands to reason that if the Pats went to him looking for cap relief, he’d want something in return—and he might want a correction anyway. He’s New England’s best player. He turns 30 in September. The Patriots are retooling. If you’re a corner-needy team, you might want to give them a call just to check in."
I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But here's the train of thought: Belichick likes to get rid of players a year too early rather than a year late. And as Breer mentions, Gilmore could be looking to make more money in the near future now that his contract is well below what the top defensive players in the league are making. Add in the fact that Belichick - as we've seen so often - won't pay an aging playmaker, and that means the writing could be on the wall for Gilmore's departure from New England.
To get an idea of the type of cap relief New England would receive if they were to ship away Gilmore, I turned to Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan to crunch the numbers. Here are the cap savings New England would get in 2020 and 2021 if they were to trade Gilmore before June 1st of this year:
Gilmore would leave behind $15,341,667 in dead money this year if he was traded, which is why the cap savings for 2020 is so small. However, the 2021 number is what makes this potential move so intriguing. $19.6 million is an enormous amount of money to save, especially for someone like Belichick, who could sign several talented players with that amount of cap space.
With Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty in place, New England's secondary is undoubtedly elite. But how good would that unit be without Gilmore? When looking at the fact that the Patriots have JoeJuan Williams - who was the team's 2nd round pick in 2019 and could take on a larger role in 2020 - and added safety Adrian Phillips this offseason - who is as versatile as they come and can be effective as a slot corner - there's a case to be made that the Patriots' secondary could still be one of the best in the league if Gilmore was no longer a part of that group. Belichick and the coaching staff's innate ability to develop and get high-level play from their corners coupled with the versatility that the safety group brings as a unit make that argument very reasonable.
The question that remains: Will Belichick do it? Will he trade Gilmore? Only time will tell. But for the right price anything can happen.
If New England is really in the midst of a retooling period, then trading Gilmore could be on the horizon.