Here’s a good plan for the Patriots if they want to trade Stephon Gilmore and remain competitive.
New England Patriots mastermind Bill Belichick is smart enough to know that this team isn’t going to accomplish much of anything this season. In the best case scenario, they wiggle into the playoffs and get embarrassed in the first round.
With that in mind, fans are justified in questioning why he opted against unloading any of his appealing trade chips ahead of the deadline.
Our guess is that he didn’t want to send the message that he was punting the season with over half of the schedule remaining. After all, Belichick could likely make all of the moves he deems necessary in the offseason, when he will be equipped with the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL.
Speaking of which, what specific moves should the Patriots make after the season to catapult themselves back into contention? Well, a good start would be trading Stephon Gilmore — which seems inevitable — and signing fellow cornerbacks Desmond King and Chidobe Awuzie.
It won’t be easy for Patriots fans to stomach the idea of trading Gilmore, but it seems like the best move for both parties. Given that he’s only slated to make $7 million in the final year of his contract, the All-Pro corner will likely demand a fresh extension that comes with top dollar in the offseason.
Gilmore has taken a step back this season in terms of dominance in coverage — he’s earned an uncharacteristic 61.0 grade from Pro Football Focus through eight games — but the Patriots should still be able to recoup a second-rounder or a couple of mid-round selections for him. A first-rounder just isn’t in the realm of possibility given that he’s in the last year of his contract and comes with a $17 million cap hit.
With that out of the way, the Patriots can do a lot worse than signing a free agent CB tandem of King and Awuzie. Not only are they solid players who would fit Belichick’s scheme, but chances are they can be signed to bargain deals. After all, the former was just traded from the Chargers to Tennessee and the latter has been sidelined since Week 2 for Dallas with a hamstring injury.
King has earned an elite 73.2 grade from PFF this season and just always seems to come up with a big play. Since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2017, he’s racked up 215 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, four interceptions, seven passes defended, five fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns. That’s absolutely ridiculous production for a CB. He plays some safety too, which Belichick would absolutely love.
Awuzie, meanwhile, is a pass break-up specialist, tallying a whopping 34 pass deflections over the first three-plus seasons of his career. The 2017 second-round pick’s injury has unfortunately prevented him taking the spotlight in Dallas’ secondary following the departure of Byron Jones, but we fully expect him to return to his 2019 form, when he logged a 72.2 grade from PFF, in the coming weeks as he works himself back to full strength.
There’s no reason to overthink this: trading Gilmore and signing two borderline elite cornerbacks on the cheap should be one of the Patriots’ top priorities this offseason. Doing so would leave them with the requisite financial flexibility to make further upgrades across the roster.