Consistency is key, and for New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, it's been a huge part of his improvement over the last three NFL seasons.
A lot of people were surprised when the Patriots signed Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract in free agency after the 2016 season. Malcolm Butler was seen as the team's next defensive player to land a huge contract. The Patriots, during head coach Bill Belichick's 20 years in charge, have rarely spent big to add veteran free agents. So there was clearly something about Gilmore's skill set that made Belichick willing to paying a steep price to bring him to New England.
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Gilmore was a solid player in Buffalo, no doubt about it. But he wasn't the superstar, best-cornerback-in-the-league player he is right now. What changed?
“In Buffalo, I don't think I ever beat New England when I was there," Gilmore said on Sunday's episode of the "Double Coverage Podcast", which is hosted by Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty. “I'm like, 'what are those guys doing that's different?' On the other end, I'm going against (Julian) Edelman, (Brandon) LaFell, Tom (Brady), it's different from seeing it on the other side. I think, me in Buffalo, the first five years, I had four different defensive coordinators, three different head coaches, so I was kind of trying to learn each and every year. So once I got to New England, I got some consistency, the same guys around, same coaches. I feel like that's when my game took off more.”
On the subject of constant coaching turnover -- which Gilmore hasn't had to deal with as a Patriot -- he added, "It's tough to get comfortable, you got to appreciate those things being in New England."
Gilmore had a good-but-not-great first campaign with the Patriots. He tallied two interceptions with nine passes defensed in 2017, and the lasting memory from that season was New England's defense being dominated in a 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
The 2018 season is when Gilmore started to become the best cornerback in the league. He was a first team All-Pro selection and the only cornerback to earn an elite grade from Pro Football Focus. His interception late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII helped the Patriots secure a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Gilmore was even better in 2019, earning the AP's Defensive Player of the Year award after leading all players with 20 passes defensed and tying for the lead in interceptions with six. He picked up another first team All-Pro nod last season, too.
The Patriots have seen a lot of turnover throughout their roster this offseason. One area that's largely unchanged is the cornerback position, where Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty give New England one of the best coverage groups in football.