Stephon Gilmore is going home.
The Patriots were able to trade the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday, hours before they were scheduled to release him. They found a taker in the Panthers, who announced via their official website that they had traded a 2023 sixth-round pick in exchange for Gilmore.
Gilmore is a native of Rock Hill, S.C., and played collegiately at South Carolina, so this represents a homecoming for him. It also adds to Carolina’s cornerback room, which had been thinned out a bit by Jaycee Horn’s injury.
Sporting News has trade grades for both the Patriots and Panthers.
There’s a lot to like about this move for the Panthers. Carolina has looked like a legitimate playoff team through the first month of the season. The Panthers have a 3-1 record, but playing in a division that features Tom Brady, they needed to add some reinforcements in the secondary.
That became especially true when Jaycee Horn went down. Horn, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, suffered a foot injury in the Panthers’ 24-9 Week 3 win over the Texans and is expected to miss two to three months. The Panthers have decent cornerback depth and acquired another former top-10 pick, C.J. Henderson, to help fill the void left by Horn.
That said, Gilmore is one of the best cornerbacks in the league when healthy, so he will undoubtedly provide an upgrade for Carolina’s secondary upon his return. He is still on the PUP list and will remain there through Week 6, but if he’s ready to return after that, he will provide a boost across from Donte Jackson.
Gilmore also wasn’t an expensive acquisition for the Panthers. They are surrendering just a sixth-round pick, and it’s not even in the upcoming draft year. So, they’re keeping most of their draft capital. Also, the Panthers had the second-most cap space in the NFL at just over $19 million, per OverTheCap.com. So, acquiring Gilmore’s contract, which carries a $7 million base salary, won’t even take out half of that.
The Panthers are positioned to re-sign Gilmore if they’d like. They have the resources needed to extend him and give him a raise. He would be an ideal mentor for Horn, as they have similar size, playing styles and both went to South Carolina.
It will be interesting to see whether the Panthers view Gilmore as a short-term addition or a long-term one. Either way, they’re not paying much to get a massive upgrade on a defense that already ranks third overall in yards and points allowed. That’s a win for GM Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule.
It’s hard to like this trade too much from the Patriots’ standpoint. They don’t fail completely, as they were at least able to get some asset for Gilmore, but it’s still far from ideal.
Essentially, this trade was the Patriots choosing Jamie Collins over Stephon Gilmore. The team wanted Gilmore to restructure his contract to make room for Collins, but Gilmore didn’t want to do that without something going his way. The Patriots balked at that and decided to unload him.
Gilmore is 31 and coming off a quad injury. That deflated his value league-wide and partially explains why the Patriots were only able to get a sixth-round pick in exchange for his services.
However, the Patriots could have approached this differently. They could’ve asked another player to restructure his contract to make room for Collins. That would’ve given them a chance to play Gilmore, evaluate him and see whether he can still play at a high level. If that happened, they could’ve either kept him for 2022 (and beyond) or let him walk in free agency to recoup a compensatory selection in 2023.
The Patriots do have a deep, talented secondary that features J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Shaun Wade, so perhaps they didn’t have space for Gilmore. Still, they probably should have gotten more for him in a trade. After all, the Dolphins traded receiver Jakeem Grant to the Bears for a 2023 sixth-round pick on Tuesday, the same package for which Gilmore was traded. He has had significantly more success during his career than Grant.
The only positive for New England is that it didn’t release Gilmore outright. We’ve seen the Patriots have success with sixth-rounders before, so maybe they’ll land another quality player. Still, it’s hard to be too excited about this deal.
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