You don't have to be a Patriots historian to know that Bill Belichick typically likes to have at least one star shutdown corner on his defense when he constructs his rosters. Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, Malcolm Butler for a time, Stephon Gilmore... They all help drive Belichick's scheme.
So what happens if Gilmore's contract doesn't get the adjustment he's looking for? What happens to the Patriots defense if they are without that true No. 1 guy?
Judging by what we've heard out of One Patriots Place, it sure doesn't sound like there's a whole lot in the way of consternation within those walls that Gilmore will be with the team and ready to go Week 1. Devin McCourty sounded confident something would get worked out. Belichick himself took an interesting approach to making it known publicly that Gilmore would not be attending mandatory minicamp.
But what will it take to get Gilmore back? What will that adjustment ultimately look like?
We had friend of the Next Pats Podcast Joel Corry join us this week to get into the details of a possible compromise between the Patriots and their top cover corner. The host of the Inside the Cap Podcast and an analyst for CBS Sports, Corry is a former agent who has negotiated with the Belichick-led Patriots before.
"Gilmore will be 31 in September and cornerbacks don't have a great track record of playing well into their 30s," Corry told us. "He'd be a prime candidate for the Patriots to decide, 'You know what? This is maybe the tail end of his prime. We don't want to extend him. Let's move on.'
"But the Patriots didn't spend all that money uncharacteristically in free agency and then did not really address cornerback in the draft of free agency to not have Gilmore on the team. That's an interesting dichotomy they have there in my opinion."
Corry laid out possible positions for both sides in this scenario thusly: Gilmore will likely want a multi-year extension that pays him among the best in football at his position; the team will likely want any contract alterations to be centered around incentives.
If Corry was representing Gilmore, how would he handle it?
"I would want a three-year extension," he said. "To me, the minimum would be in the Darius Slay range. Slay, at 29, when he was traded from the Lions to the Eagles, signed a three-year extension, which at the time made him the highest paid corner in the league at $50.5 million over three years. The structure is very team-friendly, so I wouldn't want his structure. But basically that could get me in the $17 million per year range on an extension. That would make Gilmore the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league as currently the salary pay scale at the position is constructed."
Then flipping it, Corry put himself in Belichick's shoes.
"If I'm Belichick, I would look to do something we did with Tom Brady in the last year he was a Patriot," Corry explained. "His salary went from $15 million to $23 million. They added money in. If I'm Belichick, I don't want to add $8 million like Brady was given . . . Brady (also) had a clause where you couldn't franchise him or give him a transition tag once the 2019 season ended.
"I wouldn't want to give Gilmore that same clause, but maybe I put his salary back to where it was supposed to be before last year's basically advance at $11.5 million in the base. Maybe I give him $4.5 (million) is the raise. We don't necessarily have to pro-rate it because the Patriots have enough cap room where they could absorb an additional $4.5 million all in 2021 as opposed to Brady's situation where they spread out the hit over three years . . . If I'm Belichick, I'm looking to just do a modest increase to the salary he's supposed to make in 2021."
Corry added: "I'd settle for the modest raise, if I'm Belichick. I'd start with the incentives."
If Gilmore is asked to accept an incentive-laden deal now that he's into his 30s and coming off an injury that limited him to 11 games in 2020, Corry painted a picture of how those might look.
"You could say 75 percent play time," Corry began. "He played 11 games out of 16 so if you said 75 percent play time that could be some dollar amount. It could be based on interceptions. You could tie it to a team achievement. The one I think (they'd choose), if the Patriots went that route, would be playoffs. If you played 50 percent and playoffs, that would be 'not likely to be earned.'
"Or maybe the Patriots have some individual standard at a high level and also playoffs. There's a world you could do with the incentives, making them 'not likely to be earned' (and therefore keeping them from impacting this year's salary cap). If I'm Gilmore, I want hard money. I don't want have to earn it by what I do on the field or how much I participate because one injury that puts you out for a significant amount of time, you've lost any chance to earn any of the incentives."
So how does this end up? There's a significant gap that may exist between the two sides if Gilmore is hoping to be paid $17 million over the next three years and the Patriots are hoping he'll take a $4 or $5 million raise.
"This is a tough one to see how this goes," Corry said. "I suspect that Belichick is going to resist the long-term deal because he knows how cornerbacks play. There's a reason why they didn't keep Darrelle Revis into his 30s, and we saw what happened with him when he went to the Jets. He fell off a cliff quickly . . .
"I suspect Belichick's going to hold the line and ultimately give [Gilmore] some hard money this year to try to placate Gilmore, and we'll see if it's enough for Gilmore to come off of wanting a long-term deal. Then, if we can't get anything done, is Gilmore going to be resolved enough to get into the $50,000 per-day fine territory. And if the holdout extends long enough, missing game checks which is basically $390,000 for each game . . ."
"It's very easy for a player to talk about holding out. It's a lot harder to actually do it."