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Patriots Stephon Gilmore signing is one of most bizarre in recent franchise history

03.09.17 at 4:00 pm ET
Stephon Gilmore is now the highest-paid cornerback in Patriots history. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Stephon Gilmore is now the highest-paid cornerback in Patriots history. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Patriots pay top dollar for players. They’re just selective about who they hand their money to.

Two years ago, the Patriots signed Devin McCourty to a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed, more than any other safety in the league at the time. They also once made Logan Mankins the highest-paid guard in the NFL and Vince Wilfork the highest-paid nose tackle. All three of those players were drafted and developed by New England, earning their paydays after years of work with the organization. So it’s not unusual to see the Patriots shell out big bucks to sign elite talent. But it’s peculiar to see them do it on the first day of free agency, especially to acquire somebody who’s never played under Bill Belichick.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots have inked former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. That’s the most guaranteed money the Patriots have ever given a defensive player by more than $11 million. With a $13 million yearly salary, Gilmore is now in the same financial neighborhood as Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Trumaine Johnson, Josh Norman and Joe Haden –– all of whom make more than $12 million annually.

On paper, Gilmore’s resume is exemplary. As the No. 10 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, he came into the league with high expectations. Gilmore grew into a No. 1 corner with the Bills, snatching five interceptions last season to earn his first ever Pro Bowl appearance. At 26 years old, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back appears ready to break out.

But there are concerning signs if you look deeper into the numbers. Gilmore played an abysmal first half of the season in 2016, with Pro Football Focus ranking him 82nd among cornerbacks. Perhaps his low point came in Week 8 against the Patriots, when the Bills’ secondary allowed Tom Brady to throw for 315 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-25 whooping.

The last time the Patriots plucked a big-ticket cornerback off the open market was Darrelle Revis in 2014, but he was signed to a glorified one-year deal. New England failed to exercise his exorbitant $20 million option in 2015, letting him return to the Jets. Coming off an injury-riddled season with the Buccaneers, Revis was a value signing. The same can’t be said for Gilmore, who’s now getting paid like a perennial Pro Bowler. It seems as if the Patriots have decided to hitch the future of their secondary on him.

With Gilmore signed for the next five years, Malcolm Butler’s future is now in question. He was recently slapped with a first-round tender, which means if he can’t work out a long-term deal with the Patriots, he’ll make $3.91 million next season. It’s a substantial raise from his $600,000 salary in 2016, but far below Gilmore’s value.

Butler, 27, profiles as the perfect Patriot. The undrafted rookie out of West Alabama was the hero in Super Bowl XLIX, snatching the game-winning interception on the goal line. Since then, he’s developed into a legitimate No. 1 corner. Last season, Butler broke up 12 passes and had nine games in which he allowed two or fewer completions. He also surrendered fewer than 20 receiving yards seven times.

With that kind of progression, Butler seemed to be a prime candidate for a long-term extension this offseason. But with Gilmore now on board, he’ll probably seek a similar contract. It’s difficult to see the Patriots allocating that kind of money to one position.

Since no NFL team has surrendered a first-round pick for a restricted free agent since 2003, it’s possible Butler will be back with the team next season. The Patriots are reportedly considering sending him to the Saints for wideout Brandin Cooks, but it’s rare to see trades of that magnitude come to fruition.

If Butler sticks around next season, the Patriots could have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. But it seems as if his time in New England is coming to an end. The Gilmore acquisition is a bizarre move for a franchise that traditionally prefers to give big contracts to its own guys.

Read More: Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots, Stephon Gilmore,



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