The Patriots traded Stephon Gilmore to Carolina on Wednesday, bringing to an end the tenure of one of their best free agency signings of the last 20 years. After coming to New England from Buffalo, Gilmore helped the Patriots reach two Super Bowls, win one while taking home 2019's Defensive Player of the Year award, becoming the latest in a line of shutdown cornerbacks that were key pieces of championship teams.
By the time Gilmore arrived, Devin McCourty was already a two-time Super Bowl champ and stalwart in the secondary, and the cornerback impressed the veteran upon his immediate arrival.
"I just thought he did an awesome job from 2017 to come into 2018, being the best corner in the game and then winning defensive MVP the year after," said McCourty, reflecting on his friend and teammate's departure. "Just so much respect for him and how hard he worked to understand what we're doing here as a defense and be our best player on defense. It speaks volumes of his work ethic, coming in and understanding what he had to do to, obviously to be successful in this defense but to make the defense better.
"To me, it's a hard thing to do as a free agent to come into a team. He didn't just do it well, he mastered it and played it at an elite level."
By now, the 12th-year veteran McCourty knows how the NFL works. He recalled Logan Mankins' departure during the summer of 2014 as one of the first reminders of how quickly things can change.
"I would say the longer you're in this league you kind of get numb to [transactions]," said McCourty, but just because Gilmore's headed to the Panthers doesn't mean it changes anything between teammates who spent four-plus years together. " I would say as a friend we don't lose friends because you guys get traded and released. He'll still be one of my guys. Unfortunately, we won't get to play together but I feel like I've said that about a lot of different guys over the years. Obviously, he's at the top of the list of guys I've gotten the opportunity to play with, he made me a lot better football player playing with a guy like that."
Gilmore will spend two more weeks on the PUP list with Carolina and would then be eligible to return to the field. Two games later the Panthers are scheduled to face the Patriots, so it could be a short goodbye before McCourty and the Pats see their old shutdown corner pal again.
"Carolina is getting a great football player, obviously a great person in the locker room," said McCourty, "A guy some of the younger players or even veteran players will get to see his work ethic, what he puts into the game from a preparation standpoint, going out there covering guys.
"I wish my dog Gillie the best in Carolina."