CHARLOTTE — Stephon Gilmore is headed home.
The Carolina Panthers have acquired veteran cornerback and 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year from the New England Patriots for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick.
The move comes after Gilmore and the Patriots failed to come to terms on a new contract.
Carolina has been looking to upgrade its cornerback position after losing first-round pick Jaycee Horn to a broken foot, which could keep him out for the remainder of the season. Last week Carolina traded for cornerback C.J. Henderson, the No. 9 pick in last year’s NFL draft, from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gilmore was raised in Rock Hill, South Carolina, about 26 miles from Carolina’s current headquarters. He now lives in Waxhaw, North Carolina, three houses down from Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer.
“I think anytime you can get a (former) All-Pro player for a future sixth, we’re going to do it, right?” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “… This was just one of those things where he it was too good to pass up. He’s too good of a player and he’s from here. Football character-wise he just adds to the core of what we are.”
The four-time Pro Bowl cornerback confirmed his departure from New England earlier Wednesday in an Instagram post, saying the moments he shared with his teammates on and off the field over the past four seasons — including winning the Super Bowl following the 2018 season — “will never be forgotten.”
“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my goodbye to this great fan base,” Gilmore wrote. “We enjoyed so much success together and you have been an incredible inspiration for my individual achievements.”
Gilmore began the season on the physically unable to perform list as he worked his way back from a quadriceps injury late last season that required offseason surgery. He is eligible to begin practicing again after Week 6.
The Patriots and Gilmore had been trying to work out a restructured deal since this summer. The 31-year-old sat out both the voluntary and mandatory portions of New England’s offseason program in May and June as he looked to get additional compensation entering the final season of the five-year, $65 million deal he signed in 2017.
The Panthers will be on the hook for the remaining portion of Gilmore’s $7 million contract — about $5.4 million — but the team could look to give him a contract extension before the season is over if things go well. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next year.
Carolina’s cornerback room now includes some prominent names including Donte Jackson, Henderson, Gilmore, Horn and A.J. Bouye. Henderson, Gilmore and Horn were all top 10 picks in the draft and Jackson is a former second-round pick.
Gilmore received a $500,000 roster bonus, but even with that, his 2021 compensation would have ranked him 25th among NFL cornerbacks. That didn’t sit well with Gilmore, who has been a standout in New England’s secondary since arriving as a free agent from Buffalo in 2017.
Gilmore had 11 interceptions in his four seasons with the Patriots. He tied a career low with one interception last season. He appeared in just 11 games after missing time because of a COVID-19 diagnosis and the quad injury.
He told ESPN this summer that he only wanted fair value and that he was feeling good following surgery.
“I just want what I’m worth, however that plays out,” Gilmore told ESPN. “Every player should be paid what they’re worth. That’s just how it is.”
Despite losing safety Patrick Chung to retirement, the Patriots did do some things to bolster their secondary this offseason. Defensive back J.C. Jackson, who led the team with nine interceptions last season, re-signed, and the team added veteran Jalen Mills. Jackson already has two interceptions this season.
An extended absence by Gilmore would have hampered his ability to build chemistry with a unit that also added several new pieces on the defensive line in free agency, including defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and edge rusher Matt Judon.
With Gilmore now gone, the Patriots will turn their full attention to fortifying a defense that ranks fourth in the NFL, allowing 185 passing yards per game.