In a stunning move, according to ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, the Patriots are expected to release former All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore after the two sides could not agree to terms on a long-term deal.
Gilmore, 31, is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million contract he signed with New England and was due $7 million in 2021. After undergoing quad surgery during the offseason, he didn't report for minicamp and he opened the season on the PUP list, making him ineligible to return to play until after Week 6.
In recent weeks, the cap-strapped Patriots asked Gilmore to take a pay cut through a restructured contract, but the player refused. Currently, per Schefter, they have only $54,000 in salary cap space and the decision to release the veteran defender immediately opens up $5.8 million to work with.
According to Mike Giardi of NFL Network, with numerous teams expected to have interest in Gilmore, New England could still pull off a trade before today's 4 PM deadline. Up to this point, those talks had gone nowhere, but revealing his release early on Wednesday could spur last-minute action on that front.
While it remains unknown whether or not general manager John Schneider and the Seahawks will make a run at Gilmore, given their ongoing struggles at cornerback during the first four weeks of the season and the fact they recently benched starter Tre Flowers in favor of Sidney Jones, they should be a front runner for his services.
Viewed as one of the premier shutdown corners in the NFL, Gilmore has made the Pro Bowl in four of his past five seasons, earned First-Team All-Pro recognition twice, and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2019. During that span, he intercepted 16 passes, produced a whopping 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 eventually 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. It was a steep decline from his phenomenal 2019 season when he led the NFL with six interceptions and 20 pass breakups.
But 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.
Considering Gilmore's past track record, he averaged more than 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 dealing with some bad luck a year ago, assuming he's close to 100 percent healthy, he should be primed to return to form and give whoever acquires him a monumental boost in the secondary.
From Seattle's perspective, however, there are a few legitimate reasons why adding Gilmore to the mix may not happen.
For one, Gilmore finds himself on the wrong side of 30 years old and already has nine NFL seasons under his belt. Coming off a down season by his standards, he reportedly wants to be one of the league's highest-paid cornerbacks and even with roughly $11 million in cap space at their disposal, the Seahawks likely won't be willing to come close to that value for an aging player who may be entering the latter stages of his career.
Secondly, the Seahawks don't exactly have a good track record with acclimating established veteran cornerbacks to their secondary and adopting to techniques such as the kick-step taught by coach Pete Carroll and his staff. Back in 2015, Cary Williams lasted only 10 games after being signed as a free agent before being released by the team and more recently, free agent signee Ahkello Witherspoon didn't even make it out of training camp in August before being dealt to the Steelers for a future fifth-round pick.
Maybe most importantly, Gilmore has cut his teeth as one of the NFL's premier man coverage cornerbacks. Though Seattle has switched things up a bit coverage-wise over the past two years by mixing in more two-deep Cover 2 looks, Carroll's defense still primarily uses Cover 3. A player of Gilmore's caliber may be more than capable of excelling in a zone-heavy scheme, but it may not be the best schematic fit to match his strengths.
If Gilmore wants to land with a contender, even after a somewhat disappointing 2-2 start, the Seahawks should stand out as an ideal destination. Along with having a glaring and obvious need at his position, they have enough cap space to make a lucrative midseason offer and could be one of the few franchises equipped to offer a quality multi-year deal. Not having to give up a draft pick as compensation would make the possibility even more appealing.
With that said, despite his impressive resume, Gilmore's age, health, and questionable scheme fit are all factors that could lead to Schneider opting to take a pass. If he does indeed hit the market and becomes an unrestricted free agent, they will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch and see if they decide to get serious pursuing him.