In the NFL, one player can be a team’s trash and then later, very easily become another team’s treasure. That appears to be the case for cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore has not shared much about the end of his tenure with the New England Patriots. Gilmore sat out training camp last summer because of a contract dispute. In response, New England placed him on the PUP list to begin the 2021 season.
Eventually, the relationship ended in a divorce. The Patriots traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers on October 6.
Now a player expecting to be a major part of the Indianapolis Colts defense, which could be an elite unit this season, Gilmore finally opened up a little bit about his final few months with the Patriots.
“I was salty, for sure,” Gilmore told ESPN’s Stephen Holder. “But, I mean, it’s a business at the end of the day. I know that they know what really happened.”
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Gilmore’s Tenure & Departure from New England
Gilmore began his career with a different AFC East franchise, as the Buffalo Bills selected him No. 10 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Gilmore was a good player for the Bills, but he reached elite cornerback status upon joining the Patriots.
In four seasons with the Patriots, Gilmore became a two-time first-team All-Pro cornerback and Super Bowl champion. He also made the Pro Bowl three times after earning a spot on the Pro Bowl team just once in five seasons with the Bills.
Gilmore’s best season in New England came in 2019 when he posted a league-high 6 interceptions and 20 pass defenses. He also recorded 53 combined tackles and scored 2 touchdowns on his way to winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
But things started to go south for Gilmore in New England during the 2020 season. Although he made the Pro Bowl again, Gilmore only played 11 games that year. He missed multiple contests due to COVID-19 and then suffered a torn quad.
Entering 2021, Gilmore didn’t want to play with only a year remaining on his contract. The Patriots didn’t want to give a pay raise to a cornerback turning 30 coming off a down year.
“The situation just, I don’t know, wasn’t right for both sides,” Gilmore said to Holder.
A trade was the best way forward for both Gilmore and the Patriots. New England received a sixth-round pick from Carolina in return for the two-time All-Pro cornerback.
Gilmore Attempting to Return to Elite Cornerback Status
In those 8 games, Gilmore played well. The Pro Football Focus player grades rated Gilmore the No. 8 best cornerback in coverage last season. That’s impressive considering he was also just one of three cornerbacks placed in man-to-man coverage situations on more than 40% of his snaps.
The problem for Gilmore entering free agency, though, was he didn’t play all that many snaps in 2021. In his first three games, the Panthers deployed him on under one-third of the team’s defensive snaps. He played more as the season went, especially after becoming a starter, but he still played under 60% of Carolina’s defensive snaps in the 8 games where he played.
That lowered his value in free agency. But it didn’t completely turn away the Colts.
“He didn’t play bad for them,” Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds told Holder. “He just didn’t play a lot.”
Indianapolis signed Gilmore to a 2-year, $20 million contract, with $14 million guaranteed. While the regular season hasn’t begun yet, he’s been proving to worth every penny of that deal.
Gilmore impressed many Colts reporters and insiders during training camp. The motivation to be great and prove New England wrong appears to be there.
He doesn’t just want to be Indianapolis top cornerback. Gilmore is aiming to reassert himself as the best at his position again.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, so I know what it takes to get back to that [being an All-Pro],” Gilmore told NFL staff writer Zak Keefer of The Athletic. “I think I can. There aren’t many guys out there who can do what I do.”