Stephon Gilmore’s value in the NFL should come into focus in short time.
Less than a season and a half removed from a campaign that earned him defensive player of the year, the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback was set to be released by the New England Patriots on Wednesday in a stunning move.
Gilmore, 31, opened the year on the physically unable to perform list with a torn quad on which he underwent surgery in December. His play also slipped in 2020, and he clashed with the Patriots this offseason in attempts to renegotiate his contract. That deal also appeared to be the sticking point for other teams, as a trade never materialized.
But with the proven lockdown cornerback now set to become a free agent, he should have no shortage of suitors.
Here is a look at seven potential fits for Gilmore:
On Gilmore’s Instagram announcement of his split from New England, Packers wide receiver Davante Adams commented, “Call me.” Maybe the Packers already could be on line one. Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander could miss significant time with a shoulder injury, and Green Bay’s defense can’t afford to slip if it hopes to keep up with the best of the NFC.
How many big names can GM Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians squeeze on this defense? Even after Tampa Bay signed cornerback Richard Sherman last week, the secondary is still dealing with injuries to Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting, with Arians saying Wednesday he doesn’t foresee either returning anytime soon. While the defense’s standing as the league’s worst against the pass is skewed by teams throwing disproportionately, the Buccaneers are clearly all in on their Super Bowl title defense, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for Tom Brady to lobby for a reunion with his former teammate. Fitting Gilmore in could be difficult, however, given salary-cap restraints, particularly if he wants more than a one-year deal.
GM Scott Fitterer already swung a trade for former first-round cornerback CJ Henderson to fill the void left by Jaycee Horn suffering a broken foot. But given defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s blitz-heavy attack (trailing only the Buccaneers with a 40.9% blitz rate), further bolstering the secondary would be wise, especially with two matchups against Brady and the Buccaneers looming later this year. The Panthers have the cap space to make something happen and could sell Gilmore — a native of Rock Hill, South Carolina — on somewhat of a homecoming.
Their longstanding issues at cornerback at least seem resolved in one respect with the emergence of Trevon Diggs, who has recorded five interceptions in four games. But what happens when teams stop throwing in the way of the second-year player? All of the quarterbacks who have faced Dallas so far this year have passed for at least 300 yards against a unit that ranks second-to-last through the air, and bringing on Gilmore would solve the problem of teams picking on Anthony Brown, as the Buccaneers did in Week 1. Jerry Jones, however, has praised the young talent on the defense.
Kansas City Chiefs
One cornerback — even of Gilmore’s caliber — won’t be a panacea for the NFL’s 31-ranked defense that has floundered against the run. But there should be distinct urgency for the two-time AFC champions, who sit at the bottom of their division and were burned by Justin Herbert for four touchdown passes in Week 3.
San Francisco 49ers
Jason Verrett’s torn ACL left an already suspect San Francisco secondary in a perilous position. While the 49ers’ defense has stuck together so far against opposing passing attacks, the long-term outlook is shaky. If Kyle Shanahan’s crew is to keep up with the likes of Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson, reinforcements are likely needed.
Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider are never afraid to make a splashy move for a big name. More importantly, the incentive should be clear. The back end of Seattle’s last-ranked defense is in bad shape, and there doesn’t look to be anyone on the roster capable of stabilizing the secondary.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stephon GIlmore’s next NFL team? Packers, Buccaneers among top fits