The ripple effects from Wednesday’s Bradley Roby trade could be felt in Foxboro, Mass. And not just because Roby improves the New Orleans Saints defense that the New England Patriots will face in Week 3.
The Saints reportedly acquired Roby — Pro Football Focus’s 19th-highest-graded cornerback last season — from the Houston Texans to fill what had been their biggest roster hole. New Orleans had one Pro Bowl corner in Marshon Lattimore but lacked a quality second starter after releasing Janoris Jenkins in a salary dump and losing Patrick Robinson to retirement.
Some, including ESPN’s Dan Graziano, had speculated the Saints could address that need with a different trade: one for Patriots star Stephon Gilmore.
“Don’t be surprised if … the Saints end up with Stephon Gilmore after all,” Graziano wrote last Wednesday, adding that “(a)s of this past week, the Patriots were still open to the idea of trading Gilmore.”
The Roby deal removes New Orleans from the list of potential suitors for Gilmore, who currently is on the physically unable to perform list and won’t be eligible to play until Week 7.
Gilmore’s absence and New England’s plan to replace him will be one of the most fascinating subplots of this Patriots season.
The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has not played or practiced since suffering a partially torn quad last December, and he spent the offseason locked in a reported contract dispute while angling for a raise. He’s set to make just $7 million in base salary this season, well below market value for a player of his caliber. (Roby, who is not considered an elite-level corner, is set to make $8.9 million in 2021 and $9.5 million in 2022.)
It’s unclear whether Gilmore will be willing to play for his current number once his mandatory six-game layoff concludes. Regardless, the Patriots will need to fill his sizable shoes in the meantime with some combination of Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams and recently acquired rookie Shaun Wade.
Based on preseason snap distribution, Mills looks like the favorite to take over Gilmore’s starting spot opposite J.C. Jackson, who will face pressure to prove he can be a legit No. 1 cornerback. Jackson has been one of the NFL’s best No. 2s in recent years — he has 17 interceptions since he entered the NFL in 2018; only Miami’s Xavien Howard has more — but has struggled in games Gilmore has missed.
“I’m ready,” Jackson said last week. “I’m embracing the challenge, man. I love it. I’m ready. I prepared for it all offseason, all training camp. We’ll see.”
Jackson is playing on a one-year restricted free agent tender. If he thrives with Gilmore sidelined, he’ll set himself up for a major payday next spring. With Gilmore a threat to walk after the season, as well — assuming he’s not traded before then — the Patriots could find themselves needing to replace both of their starting cornerbacks in 2022.