Potential Landing Spots for 4-Time Pro Bowl CB Stephon Gilmore in 2022
Stephon Gilmore is the kind of free agent who could be the missing piece on a Super Bowl contender.
The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year might not quite be the same player now that he's hit his 30s. He'll be 32 next season and only played in eight games this season because of a quad injury.
Despite those red flags, the Carolina Panthers traded a sixth-round pick for him. Once he got on the field, he was a close approximation of his former glory. He held opposing passers to a 78.6 passer rating when targeted, giving up just 6.4 yards per target.
Given his age and injury history, there are risks to signing Gilmore. Spotrac estimates his market value to garner a contract worth $28.3 million over two years.
The team that takes the risk should have enough cap space to comfortably sign him, have a pressing need for a cornerback and be built for success within the two-year window his contract could cover.
With that in mind, these teams make sense for the two-time All-Pro.
Let's start where Gilmore last appeared. The Panthers made the move to trade for him when New England could have released the corner.
It's possible Gilmore would be willing to return the favor by remaining in Charlotte for 2022. Gilmore was obviously a fit there, and with Matt Rhule getting a third season at the helm after his second consecutive five-win campaign, he is going to be looking to win as many games as possible.
The veteran gives them a player who not only performs well on the field but could mentor the young defensive backs on the roster. Jaycee Horn and CJ Henderson could benefit from being around the former Patriot.
The problem is Donte Jackson, who's proved to be a starting-caliber corner and is only 26 years old, is also hitting the market. He missed five games with a groin injury but held opposing quarterbacks to an 86.5 passer rating when targeted this season.
With $20.4 million in cap space, it would be a stretch to get Gilmore and Jackson under contract, so the Panthers have a decision to make between the two.
Call it the Joe Burrow effect, but the Cincinnati Bengals have to be considered a viable option for any veteran free agent looking to join a winner.
Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin has done a great job putting together a promising roster with plenty of room for improvement. Despite being in the AFC Championship Game, they will enter the offseason with a projected $58.5 million in cap space.
Jessie Bates III is the only major free agent on the defense set to hit the market. The Bengals could ostensibly pay him what he's worth and still have money left to go after another impact player like Gilmore with plenty to spare.
It helps the Bengals' cause that they have done a good job targeting and integrating free agents into the defense recently. D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson and Chidobe Awuzie have all come in and played vital roles for a defense that is one game away from the Super Bowl.
With Eli Apple scheduled to hit free agency, the Bengals could use another legitimate corner opposite Awuzie. Gilmore and the Bengals make a lot of sense together.
Kansas City Chiefs
As long as Patrick Mahomes is at the helm, the Kansas City Chiefs are going to have an elite offense and a shot at the Super Bowl. The number of Super Bowls they win with Mahomes is likely going to be a direct result of the quality of defenses they pair him with.
That's why getting a player of Gilmore's caliber should be a top priority for the Chiefs.
That means the Chiefs could still be contenders for some of the bigger names in free agency. Safety Tyrann Mathieu (whose projected market value is $14.8 per year) and defensive end Melvin Ingram are probably going to take precedence. They've both been instrumental in the team's current success.
But if either of them walks or the Chiefs clear some space through cuts or restructures, they could be an attractive destination for Gilmore.
The Chiefs could use an upgrade at cornerback. Charvarius Ward is set to hit free agency, and L'Jarius Sneed ranked 63rd out of 122 cornerbacks graded by Pro Football Focus this season.
Signing Gilmore would give the Chiefs another legitimate star on defense and a weapon to cover the best receivers they will see in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers have a lot of things going for them as a franchise. They just missed the playoffs this season but have Justin Herbert, a slew of offensive weapons and a coach in Brandon Staley who looks cut out for the job.
They'll need to re-sign Mike Williams and Jared Cook to keep the offense well-stocked. Their biggest area for growth remains the defensive side of the ball, though.
The biggest mountain they are going to have to climb is the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs represent everything the Chargers would like to be at this point.
If Herbert and Co. are going to find a way to overtake the Chiefs as champions of the AFC West and a Super Bowl contender, they are going to have to improve the secondary. The unit finished 27th in PFF's final secondary rankings for the season, and Chargers corners were specifically rated as the second-worst group in the league.
Drafting Asante Samuel Jr. appears to be a step in the right direction. He had a solid rookie campaign with 11 passes defended and two interceptions in 12 games.
However, PFF ranked Michael Davis 102nd among cornerbacks. Chris Harris Jr. is also set to hit free agency.
The Chargers have plenty of cap space ($62.4 million) to get a deal done with Gilmore and revamp the secondary.
New York Jets
It can be assumed that Gilmore cares about going to a contender. After all, he and the Patriots couldn't come to an agreement, which is why he was traded to Carolina in the first place.
Gilmore's issue with the Patriots didn't stem from how well-equipped the team was to contend. It came down to his contract and the way he was treated. He wanted a deal that paid him $15 million per year, per Josina Anderson of USA Today. He also didn't like the way the Patriots handled his quad injury.
Gilmore has already won a Super Bowl with the Pats. If he's just looking for a franchise that's going to value him and show love to his bank account, the Jets could be in the running.
The Jets are far from a contender, but they do have a boatload of cash to spend with a projected $44.8 million in cap space. It also doesn't hurt that they get to play two of Gilmore's former teams—the Buffalo Bills and the Patriots—twice a year.
On top of that, they have a defensive-minded coach in Robert Saleh who needs to show progress after going 4-13 in his debut season.
The Jets secondary could use the injection of talent. Brandin Echols showed promise in giving up a passer rating of just 79.8 on 75 targets, but Bryce Hall and Michael Carter surrendered passer ratings over 100 and were targeted more than 70 times apiece.
The two parties might be able to help one another out.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers check all the boxes as a suitor for Gilmore.
They have a clear need at cornerback. Emmanuel Moseley has played well—he's the 18th-highest-graded cornerback by PFF this season. However, the rest of the group has been underwhelming. Gilmore would be a clear upgrade over the likes of Ambry Thomas, Dontae Johnson and what's left of Josh Norman.
None of those corners carry PFF grades higher than Johnson at 61.2. With K'Waun Williams and Jason Verrett set to hit the open market, a shake-up of their cornerback room is in order.
They also provide a mutually beneficial chance to play for a winner. The Niners are one of four teams still alive in the playoffs. They have built a contender on the strength of a great defensive line that can rush the passer and a dynamic running game anchored by a top offensive line.
Adding a shutdown corner to the mix will take the defense to the next level.
The 49ers also figure to have the cap space, too. They currently have $10.3 million for next season, but there's a looming decision about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that could unlock a significant amount of cash. If they move on from him, they could free up $25.5 million.
Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel are priorities to re-sign, but they are both in line for long extensions that won't have huge cap ramifications in Year 1.
All contract info via Spotrac.