BURLINGTON — Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has done plenty of good work on the field in New England. In four seasons as a Patriot, he has won a Super Bowl, been named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, twice earned first-team All Pro, and three times been named to the Pro Bowl.
Now Gilmore is ready to do more work off the field. Monday morning, he was at the Burlington Mall participating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Karma, an Asian fusion restaurant that now has four Massachusetts locations. Gilmore was on hand to interact with Burlington police and firefighters, who were special guests at the event.
“I really want to impact people in the community,” Gilmore said in an interview with the Globe and Channel 7. “I’ve been successful on the field, but I think I can do a little bit more in the community. That’s something I’m going to focus more on.”
Whether that community work will happen in New England is up in the air, though. Gilmore is entering the final year of a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots, but he has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason.
It’s not that his skills have appreciably slipped. His 2020 season wasn’t quite up to the level of his 2019 play, but he still was the Patriots’ best secondary player and earned a Pro Bowl invitation.
It’s just that Gilmore is on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll be 31 in September), and the Patriots clearly have to do something about his contract. He is on the books to make $7.9 million this year, about half of his salary from last year.
Gilmore’s full contract averages $13 million per year, which currently ranks 13th among cornerbacks. The Rams’ Jalen Ramsey makes $20 million per year at the top of the market, and Gilmore deserves to at least be in the $14 million-$16 million range. Last year, the Patriots kept Gilmore happy by giving him a raise from $11 million to $14.7 million.
So it’s pretty clear that the Patriots need to adjust Gilmore’s contract again or trade him to a team that will.
“From where he started to where he’s at right now, he’s underpaid,” said former Patriot Rob Ninkovich, now an analyst for ESPN who also appeared at Monday’s restaurant opening. “They need to address that moving forward.”
Gilmore isn’t making noise that he wants a new contract or wants out of New England. But playing in 2021 under his current contract doesn’t seem very likely. Speaking Monday, Gilmore said he “for sure” would like to stay with the Patriots, but also was noncommittal about his future.
“That stuff will play out as it will,” he said. “I just try to take it day by day, and that’s all I can do.”
How does he deal with the uncertainty?
“It’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m just happy to be a Patriot right now, and see how it goes.”
Does he think he deserves a new contract?
“You’ve got to leave it in their hands,” he said. “Of course, I know what type of player I am, what type of person I am. I let everything lay on its own.”
Does he expect to participate in voluntary offseason workouts?
“I’m taking it day by day, just working out, trying to stay in shape, and go from there,” he said.
Gilmore’s 2020 season ended prematurely with a quadriceps injury against Miami in Week 15. He didn’t provide an update on it Monday, and it’s possible that the injury could affect his availability for offseason workouts. But he certainly was moving around fine and seemed excited to play a 10th NFL season in 2021.
“I try to take it year by year, work hard, and until God says put it down, that’s what I’m going to do,” Gilmore said. “But right now I feel great, and I just try to enjoy every moment.”
The Patriots are famous for moving on from good players a year sooner than most observers expect, and they usually don’t give big contracts to players over 30. If they were rebuilding in 2021, then trading Gilmore would be a no-brainer.
But the Patriots clearly are not rebuilding, based on the $175 million in guaranteed money they have spent so far in free agency. Given that they are trying to get back to the top of the AFC, it would make a lot of sense to tear up Gilmore’s contract and give him, say, a new three-year deal that keeps him happy and locks in a No. 1 cornerback.
“He’s a man of not many words, and he puts his head down, he works for everything he has,” said special teams ace Brandon King, who helped organize Monday’s event. “He’s just been a great guy, he’s been very dependable, and I’m pretty sure he’ll continue to be dependable.”
An extension could be a win-win for the Patriots, assuming they still value Gilmore as an elite cornerback. Not only do they keep a good player, but an extension would lower his 2021 cap number, which is currently $16.27 million, the highest on the team.
Ninkovich said he hopes the Patriots decide to keep Gilmore and reward him with a new deal.
“Gilmore has outperformed his contract,” Ninkovich said. “With where the team’s at and how valuable the player is, sometimes they need to just do what’s right and make sure that that guy stays on the roster for leadership and production.
“He’s got a lot left in the tank and I’m sure he’s still hungry, especially coming back from this injury. He’ll be ready to go.”