New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been named to the last three Pro Bowl teams, was a first-team All Pro in 2018 and 2019, and was named the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year. But is he in New England’s long-term plans? Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini


Despite signing a boatload of free agents last week, the Patriots still have some important decisions to make this offseason. By now, everyone knows the Pats are in need of a franchise quarterback. The team, however, also needs to address the most important position on defense – cornerback.

The Patriots have had a wealth of talent in their secondary for the last 10 seasons. Right now, the Patriots need to determine whether or not Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are in their long-term plans. Losing either, or both, could happen but the team is in position to keep one, and maybe both.

It’s been a while since the Patriots haven’t had a legitimate cornerback. Since acquiring Aqib Talib in 2012, the Pats have had an impressive run of No. 1 corners to anchor their secondary. In 2013, Talib was named a second-team All-Pro. In 2014, Darrelle Revis earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors. Malcolm Butler took over the role, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and a second-team All-Pro in 2016.

The run of cornerback accolades stopped in 2017 but that season also saw Gilmore come to New England. The veteran has been named to the last three Pro Bowl teams, was a first-team All Pro in 2018 and 2019, and was named the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year. Gilmore’s run in New England could be approaching an end but there’s an argument to be made that the Pats should not just give the 30-year-old a raise but extend him.

Gilmore is entering the last year of his five-year deal. He’ll be underpaid with a $7 million base salary to go with a nearly $15.9 million cap hit. There is no doubt that Gilmore wants and deserves a raise.


The Patriots also talked to other teams last offseason and during the trading period about a potential deal for the Gilmore. The Patriots’ price was high then, however, and it would be shocking if the team was willing to let the veteran go for anything less than a second-round pick.

Theoretically, the Patriots could move Gilmore in a deal to acquire more assets. They could draft or trade up in the draft for one of the top cornerbacks – Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn – in the first round. The risk is obvious: Gilmore was still a lockdown cornerback in 2020. Although he played in only 11 games because of a quad injury, Gilmore was still named to the Pro Bowl because of his coverage skills. Opposing quarterbacks had a 61.8 passer rating and 55% completion percentage against Gilmore, who allowed just one touchdown last season.

There’s certainly no guarantee that any young cornerback would be able to have the same kind of success as Gilmore. That’s the risk you take when replacing a Pro Bowler with an untested commodity. Conversely, if the Patriots feel that Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is about to lose a step, they could try to get younger and get something for him.

With Jackson, the Patriots face a different decision. At 25, he’s in his prime and considered one of the better young cornerbacks in the NFL. Jackson is currently a restricted free agent but it would make sense for him to play on his one-year tender for 2021 and then hit unrestricted free agency in 2022. He would make the most money that way.

The Patriots could follow a couple of different avenues. First, if they think Jackson is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback, they could work to extend him over the next year. Jackson would give the Patriots a long-term solution at corner if they don’t see Gilmore in Foxborough for multiple years.

If the Patriots don’t value Jackson as a No. 1 cornerback, they could look to trade him. Jackson had nine interceptions last season and a total of 17 in three seasons. A market absolutely would be available for a young corner like him. The team could trade him if they don’t think signing him to a long-term extension is possible. Of course, if they lose him in free agency, they might also recoup a compensatory draft pick.

Jackson doesn’t have the elite coverage skills like Gilmore, but he does have elite ball skills. At his young age, he’s only going to get better. The Patriots simply need  to determine whether or not they see Jackson in Foxborough past next season.

The decisions regarding both cornerbacks will have long-term ramifications for the defense. After all, it’s been a long time since New England didn’t have a No. 1 cornerback. They certainly don’t want that trend to end.

“Look, we’re lucky to have Stephon Gilmore,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on Wednesday. “He’s a tremendous player for us, a great person. I personally had the opportunity to go to the Holy Land with he and his bride and he’s just so gifted and he’s under contract with us. We’ll see what happens.”

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