It’s happening again.
Stephon Gilmore’s departure from Foxboro is as imminent as Randy Moss’s was 10 years ago.
The Gilmore and Moss New England chapters will be similar reads one day: elite players, older but still viable, into their fourth year under Bill Belichick, playing on Patriots’ teams that were still in contention, and yet jettisoned because they were too noisy, expensive and expendable.
And both players were part of teams in the Belichick era that were - let’s admit it - retooling, with Bill the GM keeping one eye on building a championship caliber roster-of-the-future while keeping his other on short-term contention.
We should have seen this coming with Gilmore long before Chris Curtis of The Greg Hill Show found the cornerback's house posted for sale on Wednesday morning. (Posted, mind you, with a deadline for prospective buyers to bid by Tuesday Nov. 3 at 5 p.m., a mere one-hour after the NFL’s trade deadline has passed).
Gilmore is underpaid, with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year set to make just $7.5 million in new cash next season in the final year of his contract. With Jalen Ramsey raking in $20-million-per in Los Angeles, Gilmore needs to get out of his current deal and find gold while his skills are still intact at age 30.
The Patriots acquiesced to him this offseason and granted him a $5 million dollar raise in 2020, but only after his name was floated in trade talks per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. It’s not hard to imagine that Gilmore’s feelings were hurt. The Patriots don’t value him anymore, not at this salary.
Gilmore cryptic tweet from last week, “Saw a lot of peoples true colors in 2020” might not rival Moss’s “this probably will be my last year here as a Patriot” press conference from September 2010, but the same message was delivered. He wants out.
Belichick will grant that wish.
When Moss complained about his contract after a Week 1 win in 2010, his expulsion papers were signed. His 50 TD’s in a Patriots uniform were ancient history to Belichick. Bill was on to the next one, which in that case meant a reshaped two-tight end offense with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez complementing Wes Welker, Deion Branch and a young Julian Edelman.
The Pats current area of greatest depth is at cornerback, where JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams are set to take the baton, and while Jason McCourty is still around to provide veteran leadership. The J gang needs room to stretch their legs, and they’ll soon get it.
As for the business of building the next great title team, Belichick needs more talent and he knows it. That always starts with the NFL draft, even for the coaching Goat whose success at turning undrafted players into household names is legendary. One can’t forget that many of the foundational pieces of Belichck’s Super Bowl winners in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons came from his drafts of the early 2010s: Gronk, Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Nate Ebner.
Sure, Belichick has had plenty of draft misses. Heck, the Moss trade return ended with the Pats taking QB Ryan Mallett for the third-round pick acquired. But the important mindset Belichick keeps is to acquire a volume of chances to add picks which may turn into playmakers at any point of the draft.
And playmakers, if you haven’t noticed, is a category of player sorely lacking on the 2020 New England model. In fact, the lack of talent on the current Pats team qualifies as stunning. How did the roster get this bad?
In the same vein trading Edelman makes sense as well, although the depth behind him is obviously not as strong. But a youth movement is underway for a roster that was the NFL’s oldest in 2019, and the trade deadline provides a further opportunity to recast the actors.
Beyond Belichick’s house-flipping, it’s also been a year for Robert Kraft to get his financial house in order: clean up dead money bills due and create a salary cap buffer for a post-Pandemic 2021 to follow. Without fans in seats, ownership is Retooling, too. It’s not a year to gamble.
It all has a house money feel of a year, despite Tom Brady’s success in Tampa Bay tweaking Belichick’s legacy ever so slightly. If Belichick does pull off any kind of playoff run, it’ll be viewed as one of his greatest coaching jobs of all time. And make no mistake, the AFC East is still winnable, even without Gilmore around.
But more vital than a miracle 2020 resurgence is the successful retooling for Belichick’s third decade in New England, all while using the 2010 handbook. It begins this week with the trade of Gilmore.
Old, cranky, expensive weight out. Young, moldable, and affordable playmakers in. It’s the Belichick way back to greatness.