It was reported today that Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore would not be in attendance for the team’s voluntary Offseason Training Activity program that starts this week. Gilmore is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the upcoming 2016 season in which he’ll earn a fully guaranteed $11.082 million salary after the Bills exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
I could hear the collective groans of Bills’ fans through my phone as soon as I read the tweet. I’ve never seen the phrase “Is he going to hold out?” so much in my life. OTA’s are voluntary. So while in an ideal world where injuries and eight-figure contract negotiations don’t exist, then yeah, you probably want to see Gilmore out with his teammates getting ready for the season. Holdout? For?
The only thing a holdout would accomplish for Stephon Gilmore? According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team could fine him $70,000 for missing a mandatory minicamp and could impose fines of $30,000 for each day of training camp missed. Keep playing hardball and you can be docked the equivalent of a game check, 1/17th of his salary, for missing a preseason game and if he doesn’t report by August 5th he loses an accrued season and wouldn’t become an unrestricted free agent next year. So no, he’s not holding out. And for those of you who’ve watched Gilmore grow over the last four years, I’d think he’d be one of the last to even consider that an option.
Now let’s get started.
The Bills were able to bring back Marcell Dareus and Cordy Glenn, two young, extremely talented players at premier positions that are cornerstones of the franchise and Stephon Gilmore should be next in line to get paid. Buffalo’s front office better pray that they don’t screw this up as they have proven capable of time and time and time and time again in past negotiations.
Combine the rapid growth of the league’s salary cap pool every year with an owner who understands that the signing bonus is his best friend.
Ralph Wilson didn’t have the cash on hand to award sizeable bonuses, and it’s understandable as most of his “worth” was in the Buffalo Bills franchise. Pegula has the on-hand cash to pay a lump sum up front, which will bring a big smile to your player AND your accountant, as signing bonuses are prorated throughout the life of the deal. At the end of the day, it’s a way to maneuver around the cap, so I’m pretty confident in the Bills being able to bring him back on a contract that’s reasonable for both sides.
Home-Grown Talent Breeds Pride & Team Mindset
Selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Stephon Gilmore has quietly developed into one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. Playing a position that’s historically bred some entertaining personalities— the great old-timers like Deion Sanders to the new school of guys like Richard Sherman and Josh Norman, among others—Gilmore flies under the radar, as the soft-spoken South Carolina native lets his play on the field do the talking for him.
Gilmore really doesn’t get much of the attention a player of his caliber deserves from the local media, let alone the big networks. But he doesn’t seem like the type of person that thinks about those things much. He doesn’t speak to the media frequently and he doesn’t seem too concerned with the superstar lifestyle available to him, if he so desired. Instead, the 25-year old will opt to stay at home and watch film, oftentimes with his wife, Gabrielle—who’s just as decorated an athlete for her accomplishments as a sprinter for University of South Carolina as Stephon was—and their infant son.
It’s been interesting to see how the players interact with one another over the last few seasons, whether through social media or seeing an entire position group out for food and drinks at a local place, you can tell that these guys are friends. Not that you should expect the team to spend every night and day at the facilities, but it’s nice to see them helping each other out, no matter the circumstance.
In Stephon Gilmore’s case, he’s apparently a part of why Ronald Darby was able to enjoy so much success as a rookie. When Ty Dunne of The Buffalo News asked Darby about it, he pointed right at Gilmore, and stated.
“Him,” Darby said. “The veterans. They took me in right when I got here from Day 1 — especially him. Especially Gilmore. I had a huge problem in staying patient when I got here. On the line, I used to like to move my feet a lot. So during camp and during early parts of the year, we used to go out there and he’d show me certain ways to stay patient and to not go for all that movement — stay behind the line — and that helped a lot.”
So Stephon Gilmore, whose future with the Bills beyond 2016 is a question mark, sees his team use a second-round pick to select a Ronald Darby, a talented player who also happens to be a cornerback. Instead of feeling threatened and sulking, Gilmore reached out to Darby, offering words of encouragement and assistance, knowing that there’s a chance he could be assisting his future replacement.
Apparently this isn’t just talk, either. When Steve Spurrier, who coached Gilmore at South Carolina, was asked about Jadeveon Clowney’s leadership skills and his work ethic, he simply said “It was OK.” After a short pause, Spurrier continued, unprovoked, “But he didn’t compare to guys like Stephon Gilmore or Marcus Lattimore.”
Stephon Gilmore is on the Verge of Greatness
Throughout his career with the Bills, Stephon Gilmore has been quite the controversial barstool debate among fans. There’s a huge segment of fans that simply point to his nine career interceptions to diminish his talent. These are likely the same people that couldn’t fathom how Paul Posluszny didn’t make First-Team All-Pro after racking up 3,037 tackles every season.
The other two narratives are that he takes too many penalties—which definitely has some merit—but I think some fans are holding on too long to his 13- flag 2012 rookie season. In the three years since he’s averaged seven penalties-per-year, but committed just seven defensive pass interference penalties after being called for six in his rookie year alone. Gilmore’s a physical player so it’s one of those things that he has to work on, but they’re going to occur sometimes.
The other generic argument anti-Gilmore crusaders will shout for is that “he gives up too many big plays.” While Gilmore can be aggressive and give up a big play due to biting on a double move, this was another issue that was constant throughout his rookie year. I’m not saying Gilmore doesn’t get burned. Every cornerback does. The issue is when fans look at that one play—that could or could not have even been Gilmore’s responsibility—and ignore the other 78 defensive snaps he played in and probably did something cool, like this.
Last season, it appeared as if the light had finally clicked for Gilmore. The home opener against the Colts was probably the best game I’ve seen Gilmore play. He played on both sides of the field and in the slot and made several HUGE plays that helped the team secure the win.
He just kept turning in just dominant performance after dominant performance (vs NE, vs TEN, vs NYG) before suffering a season-ending injury 12 games through the year. At the time of his injury, Gilmore had intercepted three passes and broke up 18, the 2nd most in the NFL. The game really seemed to have slowed down for him as the weeks passed. He was anticipating developing routes and jumping them on a weekly basis.
On the year, Gilmore allowed 50 receptions on 92 targets (54.3%) for 666 yards (13.3 ypc) and four touchdowns while opposing quarterbacks posted an 82.1 passer rating when throwing at him. Over the past three seasons combined, he’s allowed just 47.8% of 257 targets to be caught on him, while intercepting nine passes and breaking up another 38 while surrendering an average of three unacceptable touchdowns per season.
Can Stephon Gilmore Play the Revis Role Next Season?
In order for a Rex Ryan-led defensive unit to be successful, you have to work as one to win as one. His exotic pressure schemes and multiple fronts is intended to cause confusion and organized chaos for opposing offenses.
But for this chaos to occur, Rex needs good, consistent play and constant communication between the secondary. When you’re sending an extra rusher after the quarterback, that creates a void in our space too, so everyone has to be on the same page and always talking with each other so everyone knows their job.
Having cornerbacks with the athleticism and speed to play in man coverage for 90% snaps/game allows you to do some insane things.
Above is a postcard of Revis Island. It’s a nice three hour Sunday getaway for opposing No. 1 wideouts. The confidence Rex showed in Darrelle Revis was amazing, especially looking back when he was at the top of his game.
Revis was such an elite talent that he would literally trail a team’s top target for the entirety of a game and cover him 1-on-1 with no safety help over the top and rarely a linebacker on his side of the hashes. Revis would follow that wideout wherever the offensive coordinator thought he could get him into space before just giving up.
Teams rarely tested Revis and when they did, they got burned. From 2009 through the 2011 season, opposing offenses threw at Revis a whopping 133 times. Revis broke up or intercepted 72(!!) of those (10 INT, 62 PD).
Now, Darrelle Revis is one of the best to ever play the game. Can Stephon eventually carry himself to that level? Possibly. They share certain qualities and traits—their dedication to their craft, a near obsession with having to know everything about your upcoming opponent.
But it’s the drastic improvements made in the last two years–most notably when he’s defending double moves and comebacks. Those were easy pickings on him in his first two years and in spots of 2014. Receivers would set him up so badly, making Stephon nearly fall just from his own momentum. I think he might’ve tweaked his footwork up a little bit as last year he it looked like all of his transitions were laterally. It looks a bit like the shuffle tech Saban coaches.
But honestly, I personally think that you could make an argument for Stephon Gilmore being one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the National Football League right now. But unlike most of the best, Gilmore is just 25-years old. He’s entering his prime now. What is Buffalo’s excuse? “We have Ronald Darby?”
Which would be the same exact “Our really talented player is going to command some money in the future.. strategy they went by since they last saw the playoffs (shoutout Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Willis McGahee)
Growing Importance of Cornerbacks in NFL
In a league that’s trending towards the pass with each and every snap taken, there’s a premium placed on cornerbacks like Stephon Gilmore, who need to match up with receivers of all shapes, speeds and sizes against wide open spread schemes that often rely on post snap sight-adjustments to just kick their opponents’ ass.
Defensive backs are at such a disadvantage in the passing game, that it only makes sense for these OC’s to come up with these wild and wacky concepts that would tell a receiver which route to run based on the location of a safety.
To handle your own in the NFL as a defensive back, 1. You better hope you’re one of the most athletic humans on earth. 2. Defensive backs need to watch countless hours of film with hopes of finding tendencies or tips—maybe a wide receiver will release off the line with a subtle difference in his footwork when running a certain route.
If a cornerback recognizes this and trusts his instincts and his own ability to have quick mental processing. Corners have to be quick thinkers to combat these new-age offenses.
Stephon Gilmore’s preparation, instincts, awareness and athletic ability were regularly put on display last season. Against the New York Giants, Gilmore immediately diagnoses a screen pass and explodes downhill to bring the wideout down for a loss.
There’s only a handful of true superstar cornerbacks in the league right now, but the demand for the “shutdown corner” is so high that we’ve seen contract values skyrocket. Just this offseason, Josh Norman signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Washington Redskins,
Janoris Jenkins signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract and Sean Smith agreed to a four-year, $38 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.
With the NFL’s Salary Cap rising significantly every year, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, player contract values, particularly on the open free agent market are soaring to match.
Stephon Gilmore Contract Value
Stephon Gilmore’s value on the open market will be interesting to see. Box Score lovers will probably never give him the credit he deserves in the sense of the position. But at the same time I should probably be able to understand their reasoning? Nonetheless, the NFL valued him as a Top-10 draft prospect four years ago and he’s night and day better than he was during his first two seasons.
This is the exact reason why the Bills need to start wearing big boy pants and extending the players that they’ve identified as those they’d like to have back. Going into negotiations, Stephon Gilmore’s agent will likely come up with some sort of visual presentation to *sell* his client to us.
So, this last year, tweeting this image of 4 different cornerback’s stats from the last three-years before they were signed to *big* extensions. I asked who they preferred based on stats alone, I took the names off to eliminate any possibility for bias. The answers were all over the place, but the responses when they saw who the players were and where they were slotted was pretty funny. A. is Jimmy Smith, B. Aqib Talib, C. Joe Haden and of course, Stephon Gilmore, people didn’t believe it.
Without access to as many of the advanced stats as I did last year, it’s more difficult to really compare, so you have to look at this past free agent market. Gilmore isn’t going to get $75 million but I think $65-67 over five years with a $16 million signing bonus and roughly $28 million in full guarantees. a very realistic number that would be a wise investment into the future of the franchise. Here’s an example of how the deal could be structured, using yearly workout bonuses and a moderate signing bonus that’s on par with the market to minimize as much risk as possible for the team.