- Editor's note: This piece was published before Gilmore was traded to the Carolina Panthers.
One of the top players in the league at a position of need for the 49ers became available Wednesday morning.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore announced his departure from the New England Patriots, the team for which he played the previous four seasons.
Gilmore currently is on the physically unable to perform list due to quadriceps injury. He is eligible to return to action for Week 7.
He was scheduled to earn $7 million this season with the Patriots in the final year of his contract. He reportedly is seeking a long-term contract worth at least twice that amount. When the Patriots and Gilmore could find no resolution, the decision was made to part ways.
There figures to be a lot of interested teams. The 49ers almost certainly will have internal discussions to determine if it makes sense to move forward.
The 49ers’ best cornerback, Jason Verrett, was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in the final minutes of their Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions.
Emmanuel Moseley is the starter on one side. Josh Norman likely is the choice on the other side. Norman sat out the 49ers’ Week 4 loss to the Seattle Seahawks due to a bruised lung.
Veteran Dre Kirkpatrick started against the Seahawks. Rookie Deommodore Lenoir was in the starting lineup for the 49ers’ first two games of the season. The 49ers signed veteran Buster Skrine last week for depth after an injury to nickel back K'Waun Williams.
The 49ers' situation at cornerback is not ideal. But it might not be an ideal spot for Gilmore, either.
Only contending teams are likely to make a big push for Gilmore. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who signed Richard Sherman last week, will “definitely investigate,” Josina Anderson reported Wednesday. The Green Bay Packers are also a logical destination for Gilmore.
And if the money is equal, Gilmore can be expected to go to a place where he believes can win now.
The 49ers must consider the long-term impact of any move they make. In the past two years, the club has doled out contracts of $15 million or more annually to Fred Warner, George Kittle, Trent Williams and Arik Armstead.
Does it make sense for them to do another big-money deal — this time on a 31-year-old cornerback — when Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel will be eligible for lucrative extensions after this season?
This will be Gilmore’s 10th NFL season. He is a four-time Pro Bowl player and a two-time All-Pro. Two seasons ago he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league last season with six interceptions.
The 49ers currently have less than $4.5 million in salary-cap space.
The 49ers have so many high-priced players it seems unlikely they can afford another -- especially an older player who is coming off an injury.
I originally wrote that the 49ers could immediately create more than $15 million in cap space if they were to release quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But that is not the case.
Because Garoppolo is a vested veteran, he is entitled to termination pay once in his career. Because he cannot be guaranteed to ever have a contract that pays him this much money again in his career, he would certainly claim termination pay and the 49ers would still be on the hook for the full amount of his salary.
Garoppolo’s status for the 49ers’ Week 5 game against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals is uncertain due to a calf injury. Rookie Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, could make his first career start.