With the mandatory portion of the NFL’s offseason program fast approaching, there’s a storyline that’s getting swept under the rug.
New England’s top two cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson, are severely underpaid relative to their on-field product, as arguably the best CB duo in the league.
The Patriots continue to dance around Gilmore’s contract situation, in particular, as his five-year deal will expire at the end of the season and currently only pays him $7.3 million in cash in 2021.
Last summer, the Pats gave the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year a salary advance, raising his base salary by approximately $5 million to avoid a holdout by Gilmore heading into camp.
The 30-year-old star cornerback was on the verge of holding out then and now is slated to make even less money on the final year of his lucrative free-agent contract with the Patriots.
Speaking to a source close to Gilmore’s camp, he is open to an extension that would keep the two-time All-Pro corner in New England beyond the 2021 season.
However, the two sides remain far apart in those negotiations. The source pointed out that Gilmore is aware that the Patriots don’t typically extend pricey veteran corners.
The Pats released Hall of Fame corner Ty Law back in 2005. Similarly, the team didn’t match a contract offer by the Jets to a 30-year-old Darrelle Revis, and even younger players such as Aqib Talib and Asante Samuel got their big paydays elsewhere.
Gilmore could be the exception to the rule due to his exceptional play and work ethic since he signed with the Patriots as a free agent in 2017. Still, this situation is coming to a head.
Another raise for the 2021 season could get Gilmore in the building, avoiding a holdout. But after missing windows over the last year to trade the star corner, there’s a growing sense that Gilmore will not report to mandatory minicamp next month without a contract resolution.
And, quite frankly, who would blame him? He’s grossly underpaid at his current number and just witnessed the Patriots hand out big-money contract after big-money contract this offseason.
As for Jackson, he has less leverage after signing his restricted free-agent tender. But there’s a fear that Gilmore’s situation could lead to a domino effect that would give Jackson more power.
If Gilmore doesn’t report, Jackson, who had the second-most interceptions in the NFL last season, would be New England’s top cornerback in camp without much depth behind him.
Jackson’s tender will pay him $3.384 million in 2021, a steal, but like fellow UDFA gems Jonathan Jones and Malcolm Butler, Jackson will likely wait till next offseason to cash in (it is worth noting that Jackson’s agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who had seven clients sign with the Pats this offseason).
Behind Gilmore and Jackson, the Patriots’ outside cornerback depth is thin. 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams, fringe roster players Mike Jackson Sr. and Dee Virgin, and free-agent acquisition Jalen Mills, who figures to play more safety than corner for the Pats, are all that’s left.
Williams has struggled to make an impact in his first two seasons, granted in a loaded secondary with established veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. For the 45th overall pick in the 2019 draft, now is the time to prove himself worthy of more playing time.
The Patriots rebuilt their front seven in the draft and free agency, made major acquisitions to upgrade their offensive weapons, and selected quarterback Mac Jones in the first round.
Running into contract battles with their top two cornerbacks would put a damper on an exciting and productive offseason that has a chance to turn around a 7-9 season a year ago in a hurry.
With that said, let’s empty the mailbag. Thanks to everyone that asked questions this week, and as always, please check out our YouTube channel for more Patriots content:
What do you think the price is for Julio Jones
— Aaron Vogt (@Aaronvogt22) May 20, 2021
The number one question this week is, of course, Julio Jones. In an “uncharacteristically aggressive” offseason, pulling off a blockbuster for Jones would be the icing on the cake. It makes total sense on the field. The Pats need an “X” receiver on the outside, and adding Jones would round out the offense nicely. Contractually, they’d need to move some money around, but Jones’s $15.3 million base salary is doable. The argument is certainly there for the Patriots to trade for Jones; he puts this offense over the top.
However, my sense is that the Pats would like to see their current group together on the field before making another significant move for a pass-catcher. New England has already invested a chunk of the pie to pass catchers this offseason, and they’d need to surrender even more capital and salary cap space to acquire Jones. The 32-year-old would also be under contract for at least one more year, so this is a multi-year investment. If he gets moved at the deadline or is available again next offseason, and the Pats need another weapon to become a true contender, then, maybe. For now, I don’t see it happening.
The salary cap crunch that allowed for the Pats’ free-agent spending spree could benefit them once again. There are only roughly ten teams that could currently fit Jones under the cap, so the suitors’ list is a bit smaller. Nonetheless, Atlanta is seeking a second-round pick plus more for Jones, who will not get moved at a discount.
Yo can we get the Colbert Report??? https://t.co/72nfAXq9sx
— Aidan (@aidanmonahan1) May 20, 2021
Colbert could be a sneaky addition for the Patriots late in the process. He has played both safety positions and is a physical striker in the middle of the defense. Plus, he spent the last two seasons with the Giants and Dolphins, so he has some familiarity with New England’s system. And he can play in the kicking game. Colbert missed time due to injuries over the last few seasons, but people in New York were surprised that the Giants didn’t try harder to keep him around. The Pats are deep at safety, so he’ll have a battle on his hands to make the team, but he’s a rosterable talent.
Do you think Richard Sherman would be nice fit for the Pats?
— Guðmundur Sigurðsson (@gummisig54) May 20, 2021
I don’t see the fit for Sherman with the Patriots as an outside corner. Between the Seahawks and 49ers, Sherman spent his entire career in a Seattle-style cover-three system. He’s a zone corner responsible for shutting down his side of the field and didn’t travel much with receivers in man. There are man principles in Seattle’s scheme where he’s pattern matching on the outside, but it’s not a true man-to-man system like in New England. However, if Sherman, who at this stage of his career might not have the same foot speed to play on the outside, wants to transition to a new role as a tight end stopper, then I’m all for it. Former Pats corner Aqib Talib made headlines when he said that Belichick tried to lure him out of retirement to cover tight ends last season. Could BB ask the same of Sherman? A move inside to guard slower, bigger receiving tight ends would allow Sherman to win with his length, physicality, and route anticipation. If that’s the plan, then sign me up.
Seems the Pats have 15-20 guys to fill the 45-53 spots on the roster. Is there anyone on the bubble with trade value? Stidham? Jennings? Williams? Michel?
Any of the bubble types who could return more than a 6th or 7th?
— Eamon Murray (@BarstoolQB) May 20, 2021
Outside of a team getting desperate for a quarterback (more on Stidham next), the only player that would get much of a return for the Patriots is Chase Winovich. Winovich’s role was reduced back to passing downs only a year ago when he couldn’t set the edge against the run. As Belichick said multiple times, Wino is a good football player who can help a team, but he might not fit Belichick’s system, which requires stout, disciplined edge defenders. Winovich could blossom into an every-down player in a more aggressive scheme, so it’s easy to see why a 4-3 or attacking 3-4 team would be interested. With Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and third-round pick Ronnie Perkins joining the team this offseason, the Pats could sell high on Winovich.
Stidham for a 5th???
— garretthah (@garretthah33) May 20, 2021
The Twitter rumor that the Texans were interested in trading for Stidham is just that, a rumor. Houston is stockpiling QBs and calling around everywhere with the Deshaun Watson situation still up in the air. But Nick Caserio isn’t a huge believer in Stidham either, from what I’m told. If the Patriots can get a fifth for Stidham, then do it right now. Stidham has close to zero trade value with the Pats’ refusal to play him last season when Newton struggled tanking his stock. If Stidham gets moved, expect a day-three pick swap or a player-for-player trade where the other team gives the Pats a player they were releasing anyway at roster cutdowns.
Do they teach Mac to run the offense Cam runs, or the offense Brady ran? How do they handle the installation and splitting reps when they have such different skill sets?
— Drismegistus (@drismegistus) May 20, 2021
Another good question, but the answer isn’t as complicated as one would think. Last season, the Patriots’ passing offense was essentially the same as it was with Brady. McDaniels didn’t alter his system much for Cam in that sense, forcing Newton to learn his scheme. Plus, some of the Cam adaptations, like more RPOs, fit Jones perfectly, as we discussed here. The differences would come in the running game where McDaniels would obviously need to strip the offense of the QB-run threat, but the Pats’ system is what it is, regardless of who is under center. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that they’d be running two completely different offenses if it’s Cam versus Mac Jones.
I hate even asking-Would the Pats offense benefit from using Newton in a Taysum Hill roll, if Jones ends up taking the starting job?
— Neely (@ALF878) May 20, 2021
I hate to answer the question, but it’s a fair one to ask. Yes, the Patriots would benefit offensively from having a Newton package that features him as a situational runner. Last season, New England had the fourth-best short-yardage success rate, mainly because Newton had 21 rushing first downs and 12 rushing TDs; Cam was arguably the most effective short-yardage ball carrier in the NFL. If Jones takes the starting job, having a short-yardage or goal-line package with Newton makes all the sense in the world. Punching the ball in on the goal line is much easier when you’re playing 11-on-11.
With all the new WRs and TEs, where does Jakobi fit into this offense now? Seems like it would be hard to find him many snaps to play.
— Tyler Carlson (@tyfi98) May 20, 2021
Even though the Patriots needed to upgrade their weapons, Meyers’s 16-game pace from Week 4 on last year was terrific: 84 catches, 1,050 yards. Could it have been good stats, bad team? Maybe. But Meyers saw top corners down the stretch and got some extra attention, yet he was still producing. He’s an NFL wideout, no doubt. Where does he fit? I still think he has a chance to beat out Bourne for reps in the slot and will be in New England’s top three. I could see some three wide receivers and two tight end sets (no running back), and I’m sure there will be instances of pure 11 personnel with three wideouts. Meyers will be a factor in some way.
Do you think JJ Taylor will make a big leap this season after all the positive things Ivan Fears had to say about him last year?
— Darryl Banks (@NuJeru4Life) May 20, 2021
The Patriots didn’t acquire another pass-catching back, with James White returning on a one-year deal, which bodes well for Taylor. During his rookie season, the coaching staff was very complimentary of Taylor, chalking up his lack of playing time to a classic “redshirt” season a la White, Vereen, Harris. Taylor will get a chance this year to take the next step, and I think he’s more of a pure runner than White. From a playing style perspective, he’s a little more like Rex Burkhead or Dion Lewis, with the latter being RBs coach Ivan Fears’s comp.
Which starting competition is going to be the closest/most exciting to watch outside of QB?
— Jono Thorpe (@jonothorpejazz) May 20, 2021
For me, it’s the edge defenders. The Patriots clearly wanted to upgrade on the edge this offseason and did so with Judon and Van Noy. Plus, they drafted Perkins to add to Winovich and Jennings. Then, you also need to factor in Dont’a Hightower and Josh Uche getting some reps as standup outside linebackers. There’s depth and talent galore at that spot; who will be the odd man out? It’ll be a fascinating group to watch as keeping everyone might be tough numbers-wise.
Im little hyped for Nixon. I think he can play some good snaps this season.
How much participation do you think he has? 53-man roster or Patriots flu?
— Edwin Almira (@EdwinAlmira) May 20, 2021
I’m also a member of the Tre Nixon hive. I interviewed his college wide receivers coach, Darrell Wyatt, for a feature on Nixon that will drop on Monday morning. Nixon is not your typical seventh-round pick. He runs well, can create separation, and would’ve gone much higher in the draft if he didn’t injure his shoulder last season. Look for the piece on Monday.