Bill Belichick seemed genuinely disappointed by the fact that the Patriots and Stephon Gilmore could not resolve Gilmore's contract situation and keep the former Defensive Player of the Year in New England.
"Absolutely appreciate and feel strongly about the player and the person," Belichick said Wednesday. "He's a great kid. Unfortunately we decided to part ways."
Belichick had released a statement about Gilmore's departure from the team just moments before his Wednesday press conference. Nowhere in the statement nor in Belichick's comments at the podium at Gillette Statement were there any explicit references to Gilmore's impending "release."
Because he wasn't released.
Gilmore was traded to the Panthers for a 2023 sixth-round pick, Carolina announced Wednesday afternoon.
A trade was the expectation from league sources Wednesday morning when it was initially reported that Gilmore would be released. Those reports functioned as an announcement to the rest of the NFL that Gilmore was available for clubs looking to acquire one of the game's most accomplished corners.
Sources indicated that the Patriots tried to deal Gilmore earlier this week. Reasons given for a deal not being struck prior to Wednesday included wariness that Gilmore, 31, has not been seen in a game or practice since tearing his quad and ending his 2020 season.
There were potential landing spots that may have had trouble picking up the remaining portion of Gilmore's base salary given their cap situation. Another hurdle to a trade was the belief that Gilmore would likely need a lucrative new contract from his new team.
Carolina is a strong landing spot for Gilmore for myriad reasons. Gilmore grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, so this is a homecoming of sorts for him. The Panthers have a need at corner after seeing first-round pick Jaycee Horn go down with an injury in September. They also have ample cap space to provide Gilmore with the kind of contract he's looking for.
Gilmore's new team is also a real playoff contender, with a 3-1 record through four weeks.
The Patriots will get over $5 million cap relief by moving on from Gilmore after being tight up against the cap headed into Wednesday.
Gilmore's salary was not guaranteed for the season even though he is a vested veteran because he was not on the active roster in New England for Week 1. Had he been released, the Patriots would not have been on the hook to pay him his full salary. But that contractual wrinkle ended up not being relevant; the Panthers will pick up the remainder of Gilmore's salary on top of any new money he's provided.
There were other means by which the Patriots could have cleared cap space, but when considering Gilmore's desire for a new contract, and his willingness -- or lack thereof -- to get on the field before having a new contract, the Patriots chose to move on.
"There have been a number of things that have gone on for a long period of time," Belichick said when asked about the timing of the decision, "and finally, we mutually reached the point that we reached."