Updated: May 29, 2020
Some New England Patriots speculators, including the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin and Read Option Sports’ very own Ben Kendrick, believe trading Stephon Gilmore is a viable option moving forward. Let’s look at the pros and the cons of trading the reigning defensive player of the year and make a final judgment.
Gilmore established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league since joining the Patriots. Last season Gilmore led the league with 6 interceptions and pass deflections with 26. Gilmore also returned 2 interceptions for touchdowns in the 2019 campaign. Gilmore isn’t afraid to step up in the run game either and is a solid tackler. Defensive backs throughout the league will tell you that Gilmore is one of the most technically sound cornerbacks in the league. Do yourself a favor and watch Gilmore’s play extremely closely. His ability to keep break up passes by reaching across the receiver’s body is uncanny. Gilmore always keeps a hand on the receiver’s back hip and extends his other hand to consistently break up passes. Gilmore’s fundamentally sound technique is what makes him so special. If you’re into analytics, Gilmore was the only cornerback to finish with an elite grade from Pro Football Focus.
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots deflects a pass intended for Dede Westbrook #12 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
So what's the case for trading the best defensive back in the league? Many are making the argument that trading Gilmore is logical because of the Patriots' "supposedly dire" cap situation. In reality, the Patriots aren’t in a terrible financial situation. Yes, for the upcoming 2020-21 season, the Patriots have the second to least amount of cap space. Overthecap.com has the Patriots with under $1 million. In the 2021-21 season, the Patriots are third in the league with close to $97 million in cap space. The cap is a short term issue with the Patriots, and it would be ill-advised of the Patriots to trade the best defensive player they have had on their team since Darrelle Revis. Gilmore’s cap hit for the 2020-21 season is slightly over $18.5 million, and his cap hit in the 2021-22 season is roughly $19.5 million. Yes, $19.5 million is a large-cap hit, but the Patriots still have $97 million in cap space even with Gilmore on the books.
In the long run, the Patriots will be better off keeping Gilmore and using the remaining cap space (they’ll still have to clear some before the draft) and let their sophomore and rookie classes take a larger than normal role on the team. The Patriots have twelve selections in the 2020 NFL draft, which is the second-most picks in the league trailing only the Miami Dolphins with 14. Next offseason, the Patriots can be big spenders in free agency if they so choose, or they could simply draft and develop. Either way, the Patriots do not need to trade the best defensive player in the league.
The supply of free-agent defensive backs anywhere close to Gilmore’s caliber in the 2021 free agency pool is scarce. So the argument can’t be made that the Patriots should trade Gilmore and sign a free agent defensive back to replace him. Jalen Ramsey is scheduled to be a free agent, but the Rams certainly will sign him to an extension before he hits the market. The Rams cannot afford to give up the draft capital they did for him and only get two years of service. Patrick Peterson is a free agent, but he is only a shell of his former self and made the transition to safety. Jimmy Smith is a decent player, but nowhere close to Gilmore’s caliber. The only possible fit would be Richard Sherman, but I expect him to stay in San Francisco, despite their tight cap situation, to try and win a Super Bowl.
The only way I can fathom Belichick trading Gilmore is if the Patriots get a Jalen Ramsey like haul for the dynamic defensive back. The Jacksonville Jaguars received two first-round draft selections (2020 & 2021) and a 2021 fourth-round pick. It would require Belichick to go in full rebuild mode to make a deal similar to this. Even with the tremendous haul, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of trading the best defensive back in the league. The Patriots would be lucky to draft a cornerback halfway as talented and productive as Gilmore with one of their two first-round picks they would acquire in a hypothetical trade. Plus the Patriots will probably just waste the other first-round pick on another wide receiver who can’t play (although I’m not giving up on N’Keal Harry anytime soon). Here’s a side note and a rabbit hole I don’t want to travel too far down, many first-round receivers take time to develop and produce only in the later years of their rookie deals. Check out Read Option Sports’ article on why Patriots fans shouldn’t give up on N’Keal Harry.
HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars plays to the crowd after he knocked the ball away from DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
If I’m Bill Belichick, it would take an extraordinary opportunity for me to trade the defensive player of the year. Let’s play in fantasy la-la-land for a minute. Suppose a team does offer the Patriots 2 first-round picks and more in exchange for Gilmore. The Patriots could use those two first-round picks in addition to their own 2020 first-round pick to climb the draft boards in an RGIII like move to select a quarterback they’re in love with. Maybe Tua Tagovailoa? It's a crazy thought, but hey, we live in crazy times.
In the absence of a ridiculous trade offer, the Patriots should not trade Stephon Gilmore. He means too much to a team that will inevitably have to rely on its defense to win them games for the foreseeable future. Gilmore is only 31 years old. Give Gilmore what he deserves. An extension, not a trade, should be in the works for the best defensive back in football.