The New England Patriots have a potentially elite cornerback tandem heading into the 2017 season, but it might not last beyond that.
When the New England Patriots gave Stephon Gilmore $13 million per year, it was perceived as a slap in the face by Malcolm Butler. The Patriots told Butler they wouldn’t pay top dollar for a corner last year.
They proceeded to give Gilmore almost double what they offered Butler, a player who has done nothing but work hard and play the cornerback position at an exceptional level for the last 3 years.
This isn’t to say Gilmore wasn’t a very good signing. Gilmore is a very talented player, he has an elite combination of size and fluidity that, with the right coaching, will make him an excellent man to man corner and potentially a pro bowler. The right coaching is something he didn’t exactly have in Buffalo, where he was often beaten due to poor technique or an inability to get his head turned around on deep balls.
However, Malcolm Butler is a special, homegrown talent who helped New England win its first title in a decade. Aside from making the play that brought the Lombardi trophy back to Foxboro, Butler has stayed healthy, out of trouble, quiet, and has been the model of consistency for the Pats. It’s not right that they didn’t prioritize keeping him in a Patriot uniform.
Knowing Bill Belichick and the Patriots, Gilmore will become a Pro Bowler and Butler will never be heard from again if he leaves New England. There’s certainly a chance that Butler isn’t as good as we all think, that he’s a product of Belichick’s defense. But that’s unlikely, we’ve seen him blanket elite receivers when isolated and the film doesn’t lie.
There is an off chance that Stephon Gilmore gets traded. Elite man-to-man corners are hard to find, so Gilmore’s contract could be very valuable to a team with cap space and assets, that maybe couldn’t land Gilmore in free agency themselves Cleveland for instance.
If Gilmore were to be traded, with most of his contract being eaten up by the team that gets him, the Patriots could wind up giving Butler his due and keeping him a Patriot for life, while getting draft picks back in return. Or maybe they just find a way to keep Gilmore’s contract and also eventually extend Butler. Either way, Bill Belichick likely has a plan. He always does.