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CB Stephon Gilmore released by New England Patriots: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers among top potential landing spots

Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore reportedly is holding out of mandatory minicamp. LEDE 1

The New England Patriots are releasing cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year confirmed in a statement Wednesday. “It is with mixed emotions that I announce my goodbye to this great fan base,” Gilmore’s statement began.

Gilmore’s prorated $7 million salary was reportedly too pricey for some teams who were interested in trading for the veteran, so the Patriots elected to release him. The 10th-year veteran is expected to garner heavy interest on the open market, with the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers two teams to watch.

The release won’t become official until 4 p.m., and one source said he wouldn’t be surprised if today’s announcement prompts a team to make a trade.

According to a source, New England and Gilmore failed to agree on a salary adjustment this season. When it became clear that Gilmore would not be on the roster for 2022, the Patriots tried to trade him because of how content they are with the way their cornerbacks are playing. When they couldn’t find a trade partner, they elected to release him for cap relief.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots were roughly $54,000 under the salary cap, barely enough room to operate throughout the remainder of the 2021 season. They’ll clear about $5.8 million in 2021 cap space through Gilmore's release, enough to absorb new linebacker Jamie Collins Sr.’s contract as well as have some breathing room.

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At his peak, Gilmore was the shutdown No. 1 corner who allowed the Patriots' aggressive man-coverage defense to function. New England would use Gilmore to match up with — and pretty much eliminate — an opposing receiver, allowing them to roll coverage elsewhere and use the rest of the defense to concentrate on other threats.

Gilmore earned a PFF coverage grade of at least 85.0 each season from 2017-2019. His best year, 2018, saw him top 90.0 thanks to a massive 20 pass breakups.

Stephon Gilmore: PFF coverage grade and rank since 2016 (regular season only)
Season Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
2020 632 58.5 64th
2019 1,006 85.7 3rd
2018 1,193 90.9 2nd
2017 1,027 81.5 15th
2016 982 61.5 T-72nd

Click here to view Stephon Gilmore's career in PFF Premium Stats

The concern for any new team is that Gilmore is now 31 years old and coming off a PFF overall grade of 61.0, his lowest since 2013.

Still, it's not unheard of for a corner of that age to turn things around, as Casey Hayward Jr. has bounced back to his best play for the Raiders after looking like he was firmly in decline a season ago.

The upside is that Gilmore can still be a top-level corner and will have some teams interested, but it's likely tougher to bounce back to that elite level when your primary skill set is man coverage as opposed to zone.

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You could certainly look at the 3-1 Packers as a logical landing spot for Gilmore, given their situation. They are a team coming off back-to-back NFC Championships, and their biggest downfall in each was their defense. Right now, the Packers’ team coverage grade sits at 60.3, 15th in the league. Their EPA/Play vs. the pass (0.078) also ranks 15th. Not bad, but it could be better.

Going into the season, their cornerback room was still a little dicey, but they had Jaire Alexander, one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Now they might lose him at least for a while due to a shoulder injury. Gilmore would give them a potential No. 1 in Alexander’s place, then set up a playoff-caliber duo for a run in January.

Green Bay has a decent amount of cap space, as well, which could be enough to satisfy Gilmore’s desires in pay and playoff potential.

Packers cornerbacks: PFF coverage grade and rank in 2021
Player 2021 Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
Jaire Alexander 219 75.0 13th
Shemar Jean-Charles 6 66.8 DNQ
Eric Stokes 182 53.5 78th
Kevin King 112 47.1 92nd
Isaac Yiadom 24 46.3 DNQ
Chandon Sullivan 147 40.9 104th

If you’ve paid any attention to what the Buccaneers have been doing since acquiring Tom Brady last offseason, you know why this makes sense.

The Bucs are obviously a contender, with their biggest roster roadblock currently at the cornerback position. Sean Murphy-Buntin, Jamel Dean and now Carlton Davis are all injured and out for varying periods of time. Tampa signed veteran cornerback Richard Sherman last week, so we know they are active in the market. The question is whether or not they think the Sherman signing is enough for them to wait until their original three Super Bowl starters can be healthy again, or if they doubt the long-term health of that group and think they’ll need a big splash for a big run.

Buccaneers cornerbacks: PFF coverage grade and rank in 2021
Player 2021 Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
Carlton Davis 251 76.4 7th
Ross Cockrell 165 66.3 T-38th
Jamel Dean 154 61.6 55th
Dee Delaney 54 59.1 DNQ
Richard Sherman 58 51.8 DNQ
Pierre Desir 26 50.0 DNQ
Sean-Murphy Bunting (IR) 16 26.1 DNQ

The Cowboys defense seems to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the early NFL season. There were plenty of discussions this offseason as to whether the Cowboys might have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL and whether it could keep the team’s potent offense from winning the division. Four games in, and the Cowboys have a top-10 coverage grade as a team (69.0) and lead the league in interceptions with eight.

The reason why this still makes sense, in theory, is because much of the production from the secondary is coming from one guy: cornerback Trevon Diggs. Diggs’ five interceptions in four games has him on a Defensive Player of the Year track. The rest of the group around him has been fine for now, but is this their new norm? Under defensive coordinator Dan  Quinn, the Cowboys have played more Cover 1 than any other coverage this season. This bodes well for a man coverage guy like Gilmore.

Cowboys cornerbacks: PFF coverage grade and rank in 2021
Player 2021 Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
Trevon Diggs 240 78.8 6th
Anthony Brown 259 73.4 19th
Maurice Canady 35 54.2 DNQ
Jourdan Lewis 206 51.7 81st
Nahshon Wright 5 47.2 DNQ

The Chiefs currently sit at the bottom of the AFC West despite their offense leading the league in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play. The blame for the 2-2 record falls squarely on their league-worst defense by the same metric. 

Kansas City has run through a combination of Mike Hughes, Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed and DeAndre Baker at the outside cornerback spots through four weeks. They’ve combined to allow 69.4% of the passes thrown into their coverage to be completed this season — a bottom-five mark in the NFL. Gilmore represents an upgrade over all four of those options, even coming off injury at 31 years old. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chiefs find a way to make the money work to bolster a defense that has looked like a group that could keep Patrick Mahomes and company from winning another Lombardi trophy.

Chiefs cornerbacks: PFF coverage grade and rank in 2021
Player 2021 Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
Mike Hughes 176 68.8 30th
Rashad Fenton 40 65.2 DNQ
DeAndre Baker 98 61.4 56th
L’Jarius Sneed 270 51.0 84th
Charvarius Ward 131 42.9 101st
Chris Lammons 1

Richard Sherman is now in Tampa Bay, and Jason Verrett has seen yet another season cut short by injury. Those losses on the perimeter from last season leave San Francisco dangerously thin at cornerback. That’s not a good spot to be in the league’s toughest division, with Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford all getting two cracks at this secondary. 

Emmanuel Moseley and Dre Kirkpatrick drew starts last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Deommodore Lenoir (a fifth-round rookie out of Oregon) and Josh Norman have also started outside this season. 

Gilmore would immediately become the top option outside and give first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans more flexibility to play man coverage. San Francisco ranks 16th in Cover-1 rate (23%) so far in 2021. 

49ers cornerbacks: PFF coverage grade and rank in 2021
Player 2021 Snaps Coverage Grade Rank
Emmanuel Moseley 119 67.8 32nd
Josh Norman 86 67.5 33rd
Jason Verrett (IR) 60 64.1 DNQ
Deommodore Lenoir 191 61.3 57th
Dontae Johnson 74 60.6 58th
Dre Kirkpatrick 56 59.3 DNQ
K’Waun Williams 114 49.4 86th
Ambry Thomas 9 27.3 DNQ
Buster Skrine 0


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