The Patriots sudden decision to release Stephon Gilmore came as a shock Wednesday morning, but in reality the true surprise came and went a long time ago.
ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted the Patriots planned to release Gilmore Wednesday, and that won't become official until the 4 p.m. deadline later in the day. Therefore, the possibility of a trade exists, but at this point the Patriots have had a chance to deal the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year for well over a year and have yet to do so.
Which brings us back to the timing of the real surprise. Gilmore was outstanding in 2019, dominating opposing receivers throughout the season and ultimately earning the label as the best defensive player in football. When the 2020 campaign rolled around, the veteran corner was unhappy with the remaining salary on the two years left on his deal. Training camp opened, and Gilmore was missing shortly after and that's when the current result became pretty easy to recognize.
Gilmore wanted more money and the Patriots knew it, that's why they offered him a cash advance and moved some money from his 2021 salary to the 2020 season. But that left just $7 million left to be paid on the five-year free agent contract he signed to come to New England back in 2017, and all parties knew that would be a number Gilmore wouldn't be satisfied with.
After Gilmore's salary advance coaxed him back into the fold last summer, Bill Belichick and the Patriots knew it was just a temporary fix. At some point the remaining dollars would create an impasse, and unless one of the parties was willing to budge there would be a problem.
That was apparent the moment Gilmore expressed discontent during 2020 camp, so when the season opened and the Cam Newton-led Patriots struggled, an opportunity to rectify the situation developed. New England was all but out of the playoff race at 2-5 as the trade deadline approached, yet the 30-year-old (at the time) Gilmore wasn't moved. That was Belichick's best chance to maximize the corner's value as some contending team would certainly have been willing to fork over a high draft pick to get a deal done.
Instead, the Patriots waited and then got unlucky. When Gilmore injured his quad in a late-December loss in Miami, his offseason trade value took a huge hit. Gilmore underwent surgery, and cornerbacks in their 30s in such a situation don't command much on the trade market.
So, the Patriots waited some more, hoping the sides could reach an agreement. Belichick wanted to see Gilmore on the field working with the team to gauge his level of health before giving him more money. Gilmore wanted the financial commitment before returning to the field. It was a chicken-egg scenario that ultimately ended with the corner opening the season on the physically unable to perform list, despite being healthy enough to play.
That last part is open to interpretation, but Gilmore told former ESPN reporter Josina Anderson back in the spring that he was working out fully and would be ready for camp if need be. Turned out that was code for I'll be ready if I get what I want – and he ultimately never did.
The time to make a move was last season at the deadline when a healthy Gilmore was still able to maximize his worth. By waiting it seems clear that the Patriots were unable to find a suitor willing to reach their asking price.
It's hard to imagine a deal couldn't be found – even something similar to what Tennessee sent to Atlanta for Julio Jones in the offseason. Jones is similar in age (32) and coming off injuries with a significant salary as well and still fetched second- and fourth-round picks from the Titans. (The Falcons also sent a sixth-rounder to Tennessee).
Maybe the Patriots can still consummate a deal but at this stage it would appear by waiting and hoping for a resolution last year the team lost a significant asset this year.