Sport The Patriots Stared Him Down, But Stephon Gilmore Didn’t Blink
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A look at how the star corner used the Patriots’ it’s-only-business M.O. to get paid, then get traded.
Week 4 was about a long-term personal relationship for the Patriots.
Week 5, evidently, will be about a professional one.
New England people have long been fond of positioning days like this one as being about “business”, and in those terms, over the last year-and-a-half, the team just met its match in Stephon Gilmore, its best player in the still-relatively-new post-Brady era. Gilmore never took his fight public. He never showed outward rebellion the way other players in these sorts of spots do. He leaked out his feelings through his teammates or camp.
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This, to Gilmore, was always about business, and he approached it that way, start to finish. His reward now is the chance to go home to the Carolinas, play with a couple of promising young corners (when Jaycee Horn gets back) and set up a big 2022 payday.
The story really started last year, with Gilmore coming offand looking for a correction to the five-year, $65 million deal he did with the team in March 2017. The Patriots eventually bent, just before the opener, and moved $5 million from 2021 to ’20, to give him the real-time bump he wanted. The resulting problem was that $5 million would only qualify as a raise if the team gave him another bump in ’21. Otherwise, it was just a cash advance.
For that reason, everyone involved knew then and there that there was a decent chance Gilmore wouldn’t play for New England in ’21. If he did, it certainly wouldn’t be for the $7 million left on his contract after last summer’s adjustment.
What’s next for Stephon Gilmore?
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL’s 2019 defensive player of the year, will be available to sign with anyone the moment that termination becomes effective at 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. (In theory, he could be traded before then.) So what happens next? To the extent he has a real injury, his health could complicate his [more]To the extent he has a real injury, his health could complicate his next move. To the extent the injury was simply an “injury” to facilitate a hold-in that lasted into the regular season, Gilmore could be ready to go, soon.
Then, Gilmore tore his quad. Then, his desire for an extension led to an ask for something similar to the contract Darius Slay landed in Philly in 2020—a three-year, $50 million extension that was Slay’s third as a pro. Then, negotiations on an extension went nowhere, and so came deliverance on the promise that Gilmore wasn’t going to play out the final year of his deal in full at $7 million, especially since he was coming back from injury.
That injury, it turned out, became his leverage. The Patriots quietly shopped him multiple times over the last 18 months, and rather than correcting his contract following 2019, just moved some money around. Bottom line, the team continually protected itself. And so when the time came to play in 2021, Gilmore basically made the decision that he’d protect himself, while agreeing to play part of, but not the whole season, for that $7 million, while he got fully and completely healthy.
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That torn quad? It’s 100% healthy now. And Gilmore is in position to play in a defense that fits him, for a contending team, with an eye on landing another contract five months from now.
As for the Patriots, it’s hard to believe Bill Belichick let things get to this point, given his history. New England discreetly called teams Belichick trusts on Tuesday to shop Gilmore, and got word of his release out early enough Wednesday so other teams could make their offers before New England would have gone through with his release at 4 p.m. ET.
The Panthers wound up getting him for a sixth-round pick 18 months from now. Carolina now gets to put an All-Pro in a room with C.J. Henderson, Donte Jackson, and A.J. Bouye, with the hope that Jaycee Horn is back to join them in December with, basically, a bag of Pylons going back to Foxboro.
And getting that sort of measly return is on the Patriots. Again, last September, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that Gilmore wasn’t playing on his existing deal in 2021. At that point, especially in a de facto rebuilding year, they should’ve started planning for the next 18 months with their best player, whether that meant paying him or finding a way to get a return for him. Instead, he’d play 11 more games, get paid $16.71 million for those games, and bring next-to-nothing in a trade.
The problem? Well, for years, the Patriots have done good business this way, taking a cold approach in staring players down at the negotiating table.
In Gilmore, they ran into one who wouldn’t blink.
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