With legendary quarterback Tom Brady’s departure, the New England Patriots are at a crossroads. After an offseason where New England was unable to upgrade their biggest weaknesses from the 2019 season, the Patriots are ill-equipped to make a playoff run in 2020. Their receiving core, while perhaps in better health, is essentially identical to the unit that ranked last in separation in 2019. Their historic defensive performance from the first half of the season was obviously unsustainable, as they performed considerably worse once they faced quality competition.
While their roster is still very strong in many areas, the overall outlook wasn’t great even with the greatest quarterback of all time. Now without Brady, they no longer have a truly competitive roster. With all of that being said, the Patriots should trade away their best assets and start building for the future. If they decide to do this, their first step would be to trade star cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Why the New England Patriots Should Trade Stephon Gilmore
Unresolved Offensive Issues
Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who will turn 24 in August, is the apparent heir to the Patriots dynasty. It does seem that head coach Bill Belichick has supreme confidence in Stidham. However, a second year, late-round quarterback with bad receivers can only do so much. Even if Stidham turns out to be a quality NFL quarterback, it is unlikely that the Patriots offense will be productive enough to be a legitimate contender.
With Brady, the Patriots passing offense averaged just 0.05 EPA/dropback last season, which ranked 18th in the league. Most of the blame cannot be placed on Brady, as he still ranked 7th among quarterbacks with over 450 dropbacks in Pro Football Focus’ film-based grading system. This indicates that the current Patriots offensive situation is a disaster. Unless Stidham can perform like one of the best quarterbacks in all of football, the Patriots offense won’t be any better than last year. They will most likely be significantly worse.
Can they Rely on their Defense?
Throughout the regular season, the Patriots undoubtedly had the best defense in football. They were first in EPA/play and DVOA by a longshot. Their pass defense was incredible, and they seemingly forced turnovers at will. Surely this means they can still compete in 2020, right?
One on hand, New England’s defense is still without a doubt one of the more talented units in football. They are very deep in their secondary, which is the most critical aspect of defensive performance. However, said defensive performance is still not very stable. Talented defenses will obviously perform better than less talented defenses, but a lot of defensive performance is just a reflection of the offense they are playing. The year-to-year correlation coefficient of defensive EPA/play is just below 0.4, so it would not be wise to count on a strong defense. Additionally, the Patriots defense ranked just 15th in EPA/play from Week 9 onward, as a result of tougher competition. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier this time around, so it is safe to say that their defense will not be as good.
With a bottom tier offense and somewhat unknown defensive performance, there should be little optimism for the Patriots 2020 season. While it is possible that they could sneak into the playoffs, it is incredibly unlikely. All things considered, the Patriots need basically everything to go right to succeed this year. The chances of everything going perfectly are obviously not very high. They should seriously consider trading away some of their best players, especially on the defensive side of the football. Who should they start with?
Stephon Gilmore: The Best Corner in Football
Stephon Gilmore is the best cornerback in the NFL. The reigning DPOY has utterly dominated receivers in his time with the Patriots. Throughout three seasons of covering the opponents best receiver, Gilmore has allowed just 1,599 TOTAL yards. While he brought home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2019, his 2018 performance was arguably even better, as he was given a 90.7 PFF grade and allowed just 466 yards throughout the entire season.
Most teams never have enough secondary help, and a guy like Stephon Gilmore would be very attractive to contenders. With two years left on a relatively cheap contract, the trade market for Gilmore should be incredible. It is hard to gauge exactly how teams would value Gilmore, but his trade value should be similar to that of Jalen Ramsey.
Despite some obvious performance issues at the start of the 2019 season, the Rams traded two first-round picks and a fourth for the young Jacksonville corner. Ramsey is younger than Gilmore, but Gilmore is a lot better and has the same amount of team control. While teams might be wary of making deals with the Patriots, two first-rounders for the best corner in football is more than a fair deal.
One team that might be particularly interested in Gilmore would be the Arizona Cardinals. They ranked dead last in expected points through the air last season, and they have enough of an offensive foundation that they could sacrifice some draft capital to shore up their secondary.
More Playing Time
There is more value to the Gilmore trade than just the immense draft capital. The Patriots have a plethora of young, talented defensive backs who are blocked by stronger veterans. Second-year corner JoeJuan Williams played just 80 snaps in his rookie season. With Gilmore out of the picture, Williams would get a lot more playing time and could eventually develop into a solid second corner. Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson already their fair share of playing time, but more reps could never hurt. Second-round safety Kyle Dugger is an athletic freak and has a ton of promise. He will need consistent playing time to realize his full potential. The Patriots secondary is incredibly deep, and the loss of Gilmore would not be incredibly damaging. While there might be growing pains, the overall experience would be incredibly beneficial for the Patriots down the road.
The Quarterback Situation
No matter what the Patriots plans are at quarterback, this trade should do nothing but benefit their quarterback situation down the road. If Stidham turns out to be a stud, then they can invest their additional draft capital into the receiving core. The more help Stidham can get, the more he can showcase his talent. If Stidham ends up performing poorly, then that draft capital can be used to select a top quarterback prospect in the class. No matter who the Patriots have at quarterback, it is essential that they surround him with talent. Not everyone can be as good as Tom Brady.
Ultimately, the Patriots are in a tough situation. They cannot ignore the blatant lack of offensive talent. If they act now, they can put themselves in a very favorable situation in the coming years. The sooner the Patriots rebuild, the shorter it will be. NFL teams always seem to struggle with forward-thinking, and hopefully, the Patriots can buck that trend. If the Patriots play their cards correctly, they could be back at the top of the league in no time.
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