UPDATE: The Panthers acquired Stephon Gilmore from the Patriots in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick on Wednesday.
Lockdown corners rarely hit the free-agent market in the spring. Having one bolt forth on Oct. 6 is like seeing a lily sprout from arctic ice.
The New England Patriots' planned release of 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore should lead to a hive of activity. There isn't a single team in the NFL that can't use cornerback depth. Assuming the Patriots don't reverse gears and trade Gilmore in the hours ahead of his release, the list of teams who should seek the corner's services is long.
The question isn't, "What teams need Stephon Gilmore?" The answer to that is every single one of them. Corner play is more vital than ever before, and the number of teams with multiple trusted cover men is few and far between. And adding a lockdown defender like Gilmore at this stage could be a game-changer for a club looking to make a postseason push.
But that doesn't mean he's a fit everywhere or that he's willing to play for a rebuilding team, like, say, Detroit, despite the Lions' glaring need.
Yes, Gilmore is 31 years old, coming off quad surgery, his play did decline a bit in 2020, and he wants a new contract. Those are all factors that must be considered when clubs seek his services. But none of that should stop anyone from calling.
Given the timing of his impending release, and the little cap space remaining for many teams, Gilmore might find it hard to get the massive contract he'd been looking for during his divorce with New England. So it will be interesting to see whether Gilmore will take a one-year deal with a contender or whether a club is willing to meet his contract desires.
Several contenders need CB help, even if they might struggle to find the cash to make it happen. Still, we've seen cap gymnastics done before when teams get desperate enough, so we won't rule out a club simply because they have little money left.
With teams in line to battle for Gilmore's services, one might be more willing at this late stage to convince the Patriots to swing a trade for the Pro Bowl talent.
Without further ado, 10 best team fits for Stephon Gilmore:
NOTE: The cap figures below courtesy of Over The Cap are accurate as of 1 p.m. ET.
Cap space: $3.17 million
Perhaps no unit has been more disappointing than the Chiefs' pass defense through four games in 2021. They've been diced up every which way. Dive-bombed by Lamar Jackson, picked apart by Justin Herbert, and nearly paper-cut to death by Jalen Hurts. K.C. currently ranks 31st in passing DVOA, per Football Outsiders metrics, 31st in points allowed, 27th in total passing yards, tied for 30th in big plays allowed, and dead last in the NFL in yards per play allowed. On a Super Bowl-or-bust team, the Chiefs' pass defense is like someone making the entire plane out of an Achilles' heel. Adding Gilmore would immediately add creditability to the back end while allowing the veteran to chase another ring.
Cap space: $3.356 million
General manager Jason Licht is probably thinking, Bill, why couldn't you have cut him LAST WEEK??? The signing of Richard Sherman takes some shine off the Bucs' ability to add another veteran corner but it shouldn't stop Tom Brady from recruiting his former teammate. The Bucs have been decimated in the secondary, seeing its top three CBs go down with injury. If the cap wasn't a consideration, the Bucs would probably already be discussing the press conference to announce Gilmore's signing. The Brady factor is there. Obviously, the championship factor remains. Gilmore fits perfectly in what Todd Bowles wants to do. If he's taking a one-year deal, the Bucs might make the most sense.
Cap space: $7.237 million
Davante Adams is already recruiting the corner to come to Lambeau. With Jaire Alexander going down with an AC joint injury, there is a need in Titletown. Given the uncertainty with Aaron Rodgers' future, Green Bay is all in on the 2021 season. Making a move to add Gilmore would be a splash that solidifies the back end of Joe Barry's defense.
Cap space: $19.266 million
Finally, a team with the cap space to sign Gilmore to the big money he's looking for. Also, don't discount the hometown factor, with Gilmore hailing from Rock Hill, S.C., and playing his college ball at South Carolina. Panthers GM Scott Fitterer has said he wants to be in on all potential upgrades, and Gilmore would represent his biggest one yet. Carolina already swung a deal for C.J. Henderson after first-round pick Jaycee Horn went down. Adding Gilmore would be an even more massive move to solidify the backend.
Cap space: $6.811 million
Could Mike Vrabel import another former Pats corner? The Titans' defense has been gorged this season, including during Sunday's loss to the previously winless Jets. Still, they remain the favorites in the AFC South. Adding Gilmore would go a long way to stabilizing the back end, and pairing Gilmore with Jackrabbit Jenkins would give the Titans two physical corners to deploy.
Cap space: $4.21 million
The wobbly 2-2 start to the season has the Niners on the verge of being squeezed out in the tough NFC West. San Francisco has once again dealt with a cornucopia of injuries at the corner position. It's another team that would be hard-pressed to find the money, but from scheme, need and expectations perspectives, they should be players in the Gilmore sweepstakes.
Cap space: $11.065 million
The Seahawks' secondary has been in scramble-mode the past several seasons, unable to recapture the magic of Pete Carroll's early years. Seattle ranks 28th in passing yards allowed through three weeks and has given up a ton of chunk gains. Acquiring Gilmore would finally offer Carroll's D a lockdown cover man this defense needs to get back into the postseason race.
Cap space: $4.177 million
Sure, the Bills boast the NFL's top passing defense and already have an All-Pro corner in Tre'Davious White, so the need might not be there. But a reunion in Buffalo would be fun and offer Gilmore a chance at #Revenge versus Belichick and the Pats. Good teams stack talent upon talent, and bringing back Gilmore would make the Bills a menacing pass defense come the postseason, when they'll have to face high-flying offenses.
Cap space: $4.397 million
Never discount Jerry Jones from making a big play he feels could bring his team another Super Bowl. Pairing Gilmore with rising star Trevon Diggs would give defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the ability to scheme against the top pass offenses in the NFL. However, the Cowboys have a trickier path to Gilmore assuming they do release Jaylon Smith, as they'll owe $6.8 million immediately, which would push them over the cap.
Cap space: $2.471 million
The kings of cap wizardry are always in play. A corner duo of Marshon Lattimore and Gilmore would be scary even for the likes of Tom Brady.