Can Patriots only offer Stephon Gilmore an incentive-laden contract extension?

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

For most NFL fan bases, training camp being right around the corner is a time to get excited, as it marks the official countdown until the start of the regular season.

However, the story’s a little different this year for New England Patriots fans.

Though the new-look roster is enough reason to get the juices flowing, the ongoing contract stalemate between the organization and Stephon GIlmore is also enough to dampen the mood.

With camp a little over a week away, there’s been no buzz to suggest that Gilmore and the Patriots have made progress in negotiations.

Taking that into account, is it possible the Pats can only offer the star cornerback an incentive-laden deal?

In his latest piece for ESPN, insider Mike Reiss noted that New England has gone down the incentive road with its stars many times in the past.

Could the Patriots pivot and offer Stephon Gilmore an incentive-laden deal?

"“In 2018, the Patriots added $4.3 million in incentives to tight end Rob Gronkowski’s contract, the second year in a row they did so. They also added $5 million in incentives to quarterback Tom Brady’s contract in 2018, giving him a chance to get closer to the market.“Precedent can be important for teams in negotiations, and with that in mind, adding easily-earned incentives to Gilmore’s contract would fall most closely in line with the Patriots’ approach of finding common ground.”"

These are some salient points, but Gilmore might be looking for more than an incentive-based raise between $4.3 million and $5 million. In that case, he still wouldn’t make more than $12 million in 2021, which would still be well below the market value for a player of his caliber.

With that in mind, Reiss noted Gilmore could point to what the Patriots did with pass rusher Richard Seymour back in 2006, when he had one year remaining on his rookie deal and, after standing firm in negotiations, ultimately inked a four-year, $30 million extension.

That’s likely similar to what Seymour would’ve landed on the open market, so Gilmore could certainly exercise that option. That, of course, would be a gamble on his part. If you remember, former wideout Deion Branch did something similar during his dispute that same offseason, and the Patriots responded by trading him to Seattle for a first-round pick.

Then again, has Bill Belichick ever truly valued the wide receiver position? At least on the same level that he does the cornerback position? Probably not, and Gilmore, despite suffering a season-ending quad injury in 2020, is clearly the most important player on the Pats defense.

Go take a look at the stats from last season. Despite having what most analysts considered a down year for his standards, New England’s defense was markedly worse with Gilmore off the field, allowing a higher completion percentage, passer rating and yards per attempt.

It sure sounds like Gilmore has the leverage in negotiations, doesn’t it? In any even’t, don’t be surprised if an incentive-laden deal is what ultimately ends this stalemate, because it doesn’t seem like the Patriots are keen on offering Gilmore a lucrative multi-year contract.