By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
With every successive catch and touchdown, Stefon Diggs thoroughly and convincingly showed why it’s a bad idea to think the Patriots can just replace Stephon Gilmore no problem.
You don’t just replace a former 12th overall pick, All-Pro, defensive player of the year, and consummate Patriot with flawed undrafted free agents and second-round picks who have barely played. Gilmore may have been something a little less than his DPOY form in 2020 and, at age 30, may have his best years in the rearview by this point – but to be certain, he wouldn’t have let Diggs torch him for nine catches, 145 yards, and three TDs.
J.C. Jackson had a solid-enough start with the supreme challenge of covering Diggs one-on-one. He even got in some post-whistle jawing with the receiver. But then Diggs broke free on a crossing route and took it 50 yards for his first score of the night, and from there the dam broke.
Jackson is undoubtedly a talented, tough corner with excellent ball skills, and would be a welcome piece on the Patriots’ roster in 2021 and beyond. But it takes intense preparation, discipline, and consistency to play at Gilmore’s level. Few corners can truly go toe-to-toe with a player and competitor like Diggs on every single snap. Jackson simply isn’t there yet.
“I learned from [playing against Diggs] that each play, you can’t take any reps off,” Jackson said after the game. “You can’t fall asleep, you’ve got to be alert and ready every play when you’re playing a receiver like that. He’s a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league. He’s got great hands. You’ve got to almost be perfect when you’re guarding somebody like that. You’ve got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man.”
Gilmore has had a bit of an odd season. He was still very good but not quite the consistent shutdown guy he was in 2019. He put his house up for sale. Rumors about a contract dispute bubbled up from time to time. It all added up to increased calls to find a way to move on from him. Just plug Jackson in there, right?
Unfortunately, Gilmore’s quad injury shelved him for the rest of the 2020 season and may have seriously hindered his chances at finding a landing spot that would offer him one more lucrative long-term contract. And even if he does end up having to play for the $7 million salary he’s owed in 2021, he may not want to play out that string in New England.
But if the Patriots want to mitigate the negative effects of their rebuild in the coming years, they’re better off finding a deal that works for both sides. He’s not likely to get top-of-the-market money at this point, and the Pats will have plenty of space to accommodate a reasonable, competitive deal. A short extension for Gilmore shouldn’t be entirely out of the question. Because Monday night proved that they don’t necessarily have enough on the roster to fill a void like that.
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Maybe Jackson takes a big step forward in 2021. But should the Patriots be willing to take that gamble in a time like this? Gilmore has been the kind of model of consistency and excellence that Belichick preaches and wants to see out of his program. If he wants to get it back to a winning program, getting rid of Gilmore doesn’t seem like a good avenue to do that. Gilmore is more like the kind of player you’d want to keep in that locker room, especially if he can keep playing at a high level.
So if you still want Gilmore out of Foxboro because he likes money … just think about what you had to sit through on Monday night.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.