For Patriots, the dilemma of Stephon Gilmore's contract is looming

For Patriots, the dilemma of Stephon Gilmore's contract is looming

The AP Defensive Player of the Year has been handed out for 49 years. Know how many cornerbacks have won it?


Know who the first five were? Mel Blount (1975), Lester Hayes (1980), Rod Woodson (1993), Deion Sanders (1994) and Charles Woodson (2010).

Know where they all ended up? The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Know who the sixth cornerback to win it was? Yes you do. Stephon Gilmore. There’s no guarantee he’s headed for Canton, Ohio like the rest of them. But if the Patriots want to keep Gilmore in shouting distance of Canton, Massachusetts, through the middle part of this decade, it’s gonna cost ‘em.

But Covid-19 will complicate that. The salary cap is expected to drop significantly from its 2020 level of $198M because of lost revenues this year. The NFL could allow all the hypothetically lost revenue to whack the cap in 2021 (doubtful) or they could spread the losses out over a longer period of, say, three years (more likely).

Either way, the freight for Gilmore is real steep this year ($18.67M cap hit) and goes up even more next year ($19.67M). But that’s it for Gilmore under the five-year, $65M contract he signed in March of 2017.

As it stands now, Gilmore is alongside Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison as being the best free agent signing of Bill Belichick’s tenure.

But a lot of factors are going to intervene between now and the end of his deal to determine whether he stays. How well he plays the next two years, where the cap is headed, the 2022 market for corners, even the performance of Cam Newton — all of them are going to hold some sway over the Patriots’ decision-making.

Hell, if the cap is going down and Gilmore’s 2020 play begins to decline, the reckoning about his future here could come even earlier. Because, if you haven’t noticed, teams are already wary of the future.

Earlier this week, Albert Breer of the MMQB pointed out that there have only been three extensions handed out since March 23 — Christian McCaffrey, Laremy Tunsil and Patrick Chung. Rookie signings around the league, meanwhile, have trickled in with the scheduled opening of camp less than a month away.

Next year, the Patriots have about $90M of cap space available based on an estimated cap of $215M. They have a number of key free agents but no huge-ticket players to re-sign. Unless … UNLESS … Cam Newton plays out of his mind and into the heart of Bill Belichick on his one-year deal and comes to the table at 32 saying he’d like to stay. The starting point would be no less than $25M per season for Newton.

Why would the Patriots entertain that for Newton next spring when they wouldn’t think of going long for the greatest quarterback in NFL history? Cam will be a decade younger than Brady was this spring.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves with hypotheticals.

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Let’s just keep it to Gilmore. If he plays as he has the past two seasons, he’ll be 32 and still presumably have two or three more years of high-level play in him. The Patriots won’t be paying him for being DPOY — they already did that. Instead, they’ll be looking at a shorter-term deal.

The top paid corner by annual salary is currently Eagles corner Darius Slay. He signed a three-year, $50M deal with the Eagles after being traded by the Lions. He’s 29.  

Jason Fitzgerald of theorized that, if Gilmore were up this year, the Patriots would probably have to jump Slay’s pay by $500,000 per year.

“I would imagine that if they offer him that he’d be very happy and would sign on the dotted line,” said Fitzgerald. "You look at the top market guy and, in the case of that player it’s a third-contract cornerback, he’s already had the one big extension. There are some similarities and that’s probably the number they’re looking at. (Gilmore’s) résumé is better than Slay’s but that’s the way they seemingly work out is incremental jumps. There’s not that many players that get a couple million dollars over the top contract.”

One precedent to watch for with Gilmore will be Patrick Peterson. He signed a five-year, $70M extension in 2014 that takes him through the 2020 season. What Peterson gets after this year could be a framework for Gilmore in 2021.

What about franchising Gilmore after the 2021 season? Again, Covid-19 could affect that. But the tag this year is about $16.5M. In two years, it would jump to 120 percent of his 2021 cap number ($23.605M).

Would Gilmore balk at that? Well, no player likes to go year-to-year with the risk of being injured or having his play slip. They’d all like the long-term deal with guaranteed money up front in the form of a signing bonus so they have some longer-term security.

And the Patriots would probably like to get to Gilmore before his final season to see if he’d extend so they can drop the 2021 cap number a bit. But teams don’t seem comfortable right now cutting long-term deals and writing big checks with so much uncertainty. And that may not change between now and next March when the final year of Gilmore’s deal begins.

So there’s a lot for the Patriots to ponder when it comes to deciding whether they want Gilmore here for the very long haul.

H/T to Miguel Benzan (@patscap) for correcting information in an earlier version of this story.

How Bill Belichick is handling Patriots' punishment from videotaping incident

How Bill Belichick is handling Patriots' punishment from videotaping incident

As if losing their franchise quarterback and several core veterans to free agency wasn't enough, the New England Patriots also will be down a pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Patriots lost their third-round pick in 2021 and paid $1.1 million in club fines as punishment for a team staffer illegally videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline during a Week 14 game last season.

Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about the NFL cracking down on his team Friday for the first time since the league announced its punishment in late June.

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"Obviously the league had a long investigation on that, but really we're just looking ahead," Belichick said in a video conference, referring to the seven months it took for the NFL to reach a verdict.

"We have a lot of things ahead of us here, especially getting ready for the season and all that. We've moved on, and we'll deal with what we have to deal with in front of us here. Just let everything go in the rearview mirror and go ahead."

Belichick and his staff have plenty on their plate as training camp ramps up: They need to integrate a new quarterback (Cam Newton) and a handful coaches in different roles (Jedd Fisch, Troy Brown and Tyler Hughes, to name a few) while accounting for the losses of eight players who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.

The loss of a 2021 draft pick obviously impacts New England's future plans, but if Belichick and his staff apparently aren't looking that far ahead -- or if they are, they're not letting on.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Finally, the New England Patriots are back on the field at Gillette Stadium.

The new-look Pats had their first practice of 2020 on Wednesday, which means training camp position battles are officially underway. The obvious position battle in camp will be at the quarterback position between Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, but there are many more intriguing battles to keep an eye on.

In a brand new Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry break down the positions where these battles will take place.

Patriots Talk Podcast - Training Camp Preview: Burning Questions and Bold Predictions | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

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Perry named the Patriots' three most notable position battles, starting with the QB position. While it's technically a battle between Newton and Stidham, some believe it's a foregone conclusion Newton will be the Week 1 starter.

"You have the quarterback spot with Cam vs. Stidham. Let's move past that, we've talked enough about that, we both think Cam is going to win the job. Not a real battle, per se," Perry said.

"Let's go back to the outside linebackers. This is a four-way cage match between Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, Shilique Calhoun and Brandon Copeland. My guy is going to be Anfernee Jennings, but I do think that's a battle. Whatever that opposite John Simon edge spot is called, somebody's got to fill it.

"Number three, let's talk special teams ... who is your returner? Is it Kyle Dugger, your first draft pick in this year's draft? Is it J.J. Taylor? Fun as hell to watch, would be fun as hell to watch in the kicking game. Or is it last year's guy, Gunner [Olszewski]? They don't want to give it to Julian Edelman, we know that, so one of those three guys I think will win it."

For Curran, it's a newly-added safety who will have his attention in camp.

"I'm going to head over to the secondary for the position battle that I'm interested to watch," Curran said. "I have a good feeling of who's going to shine there and it's my defensive dark horse for this camp and this season -- it's going to be Adrian Phillips at the safety spot holding off a young Kyle Dugger.

"I think Adrian Phillips is going to be an absolute eye-opener at the safety position ... Adrian Phillips is a talented player; he's closer to [Patrick] Chung than he is Devin McCourty. He's going to be a really good player for the Patriots this year. But I'm going to be real interested to see how Dugger competes ... he's an athletic unicorn."

Curran and Perry also discuss the burning questions surrounding the Patriots, why the Pats should explore using the triple option, bold predictions for the 2020 season, and much more.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.