With Cornerback Still a Question Mark, Seahawks Should Pursue Stephon Gilmore

It may be late May, but as John Schneider proved last year, he's not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade late in the offseason. If New England is willing to listen to offers, Gilmore could be the missing piece Seattle needs to push for a Lombardi Trophy.
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Throughout the course of this current NFL offseason, the Seahawks have been persistently linked to free agent cornerback Richard Sherman, who remains unsigned and has stated publicly he would be open to returning to the Pacific Northwest.

But while a Sherman homecoming tour could still happen - coach Pete Carroll told reporters during the draft that the two men have spoken several times in recent months and hasn't ruled out the possibility - Seattle doesn't look inclined to make any other significant roster moves at this time and wants to see what its current group of corners can do.

However, the Seahawks are squarely in "win now" mode. They have a quarterback in Russell Wilson who has grown frustrated by early playoff exits among other things and trade rumors surrounded him for several months as a result. Though the situation appears to have been remedied for now, his future may be on a year-to-year plan and the team needs to acquire as much talent as possible to maximize on their championship window with No. 3 under center.

As general manager John Schneider has proven on multiple occasions in the past couple of years, including trading for safety Jamal Adams last July, he's not afraid to change course and roll the dice to acquire star players if the opportunity presents itself. Keeping that in mind, while Sherman would certainly help the secondary and would be cheaper, the Seahawks could choose to go a different direction altogether to bolster the cornerback position by pursuing Patriots standout Stephon Gilmore instead.

Gilmore, who captured NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2019, has been at the center of trade speculation throughout the offseason. The 30-year old defender will be entering the final year of his contract and to this point, New England hasn't engaged in extension negotiations with him.

Viewed as one of the premier shutdown corners in the NFL, Gilmore has made the Pro Bowl in four of his past five seasons and earned First-Team All-Pro recognition twice. During that span, he has intercepted 16 passes, produced 64 pass breakups, and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns.

Last season, Gilmore missed time after contracting the COVID-19 virus and then sat out the final two games of the season after suffering a partially torn quadriceps that required surgery. Limited to 11 games, he registered just one interception and three passes defensed and saw his Pro Football Focus grade plummet to 61.0.

But digging deeper, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Gilmore didn't regress as much as that PFF grade may suggest. Per Pro Football Reference, opposing quarterbacks completed under 60 percent of their targets against him and he gave up 11.6 yards per reception, a near identical mark to his career year in 2019. He also allowed just a single touchdown in coverage, which ironically came against Seahawks star DK Metcalf in Week 2.

Looking at Gilmore's past track record, he averaged north of 15 pass breakups and nearly four interceptions per season from 2016 to 2019. That's an impressive run of consistent excellence matched by few cornerbacks in the league and after being dealt some bad luck playing during a pandemic, he should be a prime candidate for a rebound season.

From Seattle's perspective, the organization has been proactive adding depth at the cornerback position. After Griffin departed, they promptly signed former 49ers starter Ahkello Witherspoon and eventually signed ex-Colts starter Pierre Desir in free agency. Then earlier this month, they used a fourth-round pick on Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown. All three of those players will compete for a starting role against D.J. Reed, who impressed in eight starts last season, along with Tre Flowers.

An argument can be made the Seahawks have amassed far better depth than it had a year ago and the team may be comfortable moving forward with Reed starting across from Witherspoon, Flowers, Brown, or Desir, depending how the competition plays out in August. But none of those players have Gilmore's resume or talent, and with him carrying a cap charge of just $7.735 million, he would be a relative bargain as a one-year rental. Teaming him up with Adams, Quandre Diggs, and either Reed or Witherspoon could give them one of the best secondaries in the NFL.

The sticking point, of course, would be if the Patriots actually intend to move him and what they would ask for in return. If Gilmore was coming off an All-Pro season, they would have significantly more leverage trying to trade him. But considering he missed time due to injury and wasn't at his best in 2020 coupled with the fact his contract expires next March, they might have a difficult time receiving desired compensation from another team.

Such a situation should perk up Schneider's ears if the Patriots are willing to discuss a deal. He has made a living acquiring talented players who have one year left under contract for pennies on the dollar, including shipping a third-round pick to the Texans for Jadeveon Clowney and a seventh-round pick to the Bengals for Carlos Dunlap. Trading away a mid-round pick for a player of Gilmore's caliber would be more than a worthwhile investment and the Seahawks have enough salary cap space in the future to potentially work out a long-term deal if they wish to do so.

What could complicate matters is that Seattle will already be without a first-round pick in next year's draft after packaging the selection as part of the deal to acquire Adams. But the team does have seven other picks, including a second, third, and a pair of fourth rounders, including one acquired from the Jets. There's enough ammo there to be able to at least initiate a discussion with New England, who has been a trade partner multiple times in the past and does have Joejuan Williams waiting in the wings as a replacement.

With the Seahawks in the midst of a title window that could slam shut in the not-so-distant future, it's not the time for Schneider to become complacent. If the Patriots would consider taking a third-round pick or a fourth-round pick coupled with a later round selection for Gilmore, he needs to pull the trigger to acquire a player who could be the missing ingredient for a run at a Lombardi Trophy.