UPDATE: 12:09 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been traded to the Carolina Panthers. More on that here.
Panthers trade for corner Stephon Gilmore https://t.co/asXKpSchNe— Cat Scratch Reader (@CatScratchReadr) October 6, 2021
Wednesday morning came with the news of two prominent NFL players — at Kansas City Chiefs’ positions of need — potentially free on the open market. Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith and soon-to-be-former New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore are suddenly available.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith
On Tuesday night, the Dallas Cowboys opted to release linebacker Jaylon Smith. However, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo has reported that it won’t become official until Wednesday afternoon, so a trade is very unlikely-but-possible.
When a team opts to release a player such as Smith, 26, who is still owed $7.2 million this season, it means that league-wide trade options have been fully exhausted (also known as: the Chiefs likely got a call — and like the other 30 teams, were not interested).
The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on Smith and drafted him with the 34th overall pick that year, much to the speculation of many. Smith effectively redshirted his rookie year of 2016 and returned to the field in 2017 for what was his true first season in the NFL. There were growing pains that year, but as he was playing football for the first time in a long time, after intense recovery, patience was a necessity.
That’s when 2018 happened. Alongside then-rookie Leighton Vander Esch, Smith flourished. He looked like the player lining up for the Fighting Irish and it seemed apparent that the Cowboys had actually done it. Smith was named to the Pro Bowl and life seemed set at linebacker for the next half decade at least.
The Cowboys rewarded Smith with a contract extension in the early days of the 2019 season. During his press conference Smith spoke about how much the Cowboys meant to him, how he recognized the worldwide level of the brand, and pledged to continue caring for his past and present communities.
The 2020 season was broken for the Cowboys in a number of ways and the defense was one of their worst assets. Smith played poorly and very infamously challenged people to “watch the film” when he was asked if he thought he would be on the team at season’s end (after the New York Giants beat the Cowboys in Week 17). Dallas responded by drafting Micah Parsons in the first round and Jabril Cox in the fourth and the math just no longer seemed to add up.
Over the last few weeks the Cowboys have had Keanu Neal on the Reserve/COVID-19 list but he is now back and able to contribute. The reality is that while there is no financial benefit to keeping Smith that he is the team’s fifth linebacker at best and doesn’t play special teams. Something had to give.
Perhaps knowing more about his knee issue and ability to move laterally than anyone else (as your own team often does), the Cowboys knowingly accepted $16.6 million of dead cap rather than keep him on the club, thus risking having to handsomely pay a player not taking the field due to injury or talent in 2022.
Despite the Chiefs’ need for linebacker depth, this is a no.
Making the call: No, thank you.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore
The second piece of news certainly hits a little harder: the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year — 31-year-old cornerback Stephon Gilmore — might possibly be available; New England is reportedly trying to release the two-time first-team All-Pro.
The first two items to note on Gilmore are that he was unhappy with his Patriots contact and also had an offseason surgery to repair a partially torn quad that landed him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list to start the year.
Here is the key to it all:
Patriots were roughly $54,000 under the cap and needed financial flexibility, which this move impacts. Gilmore had a $7 million base salary this season in what is the final season of his expiring contract.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 6, 2021
The Patriots moved on from an unhappy, injured player on the last year of his deal, now giving them an additional $5.8 million in cap space and the flexibility to bring aboard healthy (at least) linebacker Jamie Collins, for example.
Where Gilmore ends up will be quite interesting, especially given the star cornerback’s affinity for a certain quarterback.
...so what are we waiting for then? pic.twitter.com/AUVsF91FOg— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) October 6, 2021
Gilmore is a stud — but he is injured, so interested teams will need to get a feel for how healthy he is before giving him a contract. I’d imagine that even if he is healthy, no team is going to be willing to offer up a mega-deal right now, so a free Gilmore likely signs with a team for a 10-to-11 game stretch of the NFL season, ultra motivated to land a huge contract during next offseason.
But there is a wrinkle here: Gilmore hasn’t been released as of this writing, making a trade still possible. I believe the Chiefs will do some due diligence here and may have already.
The Patriots shopped CB Stephon Gilmore to a small group of teams they trust on Monday, per sources. They tried to be quiet on it. Asking price/Gilmore's desire for a new deal = no deal.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 6, 2021
By getting the "release" out there early today, Pats are trying to smoke out other offers.
If he does become available, the Chiefs will also surely make a pitch in a short-term deal. The Chiefs are publicly listed to currently have just over $3 million in cap space (Spotrac has the Chiefs with closer to $2 million with Josh Gordon’s activation), so that would be complicated. The Patrick Mahomes factor is there, but Gilmore would be betting on making an impact on — for lack of better terms at the moment — helping save a below-average (right now) defense to score big.
I find it much more likely that — again, if he does become available — he will opt to join a better defense where he can play a less demanding role, such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay. I do expect the Chiefs to call, though. You never really know.
Making the call: Yes, this could potentially improve the defense significantly — but the possibility he ends up in Kansas City appears small.
Who do you want to see in red and gold?