In his first conversation with New England reporters since his October trade to Carolina, cornerback Stephon Gilmore said he did not appreciate the Patriots’ handling of the partially torn quad that ended his 2020 season.
After undergoing offseason surgery to repair that injury, which he suffered in Week 15, Gilmore told NFL reporter Josina Anderson that he could be ready for training camp “if I need to be.” The Patriots wound up placing him on the physically unable to perform list at the outset of camp; did not activate him ahead of Week 1, sidelining him for the first six games; and ultimately shipped him to the Panthers in Week 5, getting a 2023 sixth-round draft pick in return.
“I wasn’t ready at the beginning of training camp,” Gilmore said in a conference call Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s Patriots-Panthers matchup. “I’ll be completely honest with you. But the only thing is I just didn’t like how they handled my situation with my injury. A lot went on with that that I didn’t agree with. And now that I’m here (in Carolina), I’m able to do the things that I have to do to get me back ready to where I need to be.
“I learned a lot (in New England), got a lot of friends there, lot of great coaches. I just didn’t like how they handled my situation with my injury.”
Gilmore wouldn’t divulge details about why he disagreed with the team’s rehab plan.
“I don’t want to get into specifics,” he said. “I just didn’t agree with it. I’ll just put it behind me and get ready for this game.”
The trade has been widely viewed as the culmination of a months-long contract dispute that featured Gilmore — who was set to make just $7 million in salary this season after receiving a pay advance last September — skipping mandatory minicamp in protest. But the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said this wasn’t just a financial dispute.
“Yeah, (the contract) was a reason also, too, but a lot goes into it,” he said. “It’s not just one specific thing. At the end of the day, it’s a business. (The Patriots) treated it like a business, and we made the best decision for each other.”
Hours before the Panthers acquired Gilmore, news broke that the Patriots planned to release him. Head coach Bill Belichick released a statement saying Gilmore and the team had “mutually agreed to part ways.”
“I absolutely appreciate and feel strongly about the player and the person,” Belichick said at the time. “He’s a great kid. Unfortunately, as I said, we decided to part ways.”
Gilmore said he didn’t expect to be traded.
“It happened last minute,” he said. “(Belichick) called me last minute. I was OK with it.”
Gilmore, who continued to participate in team meetings while on PUP and was lauded for his behind-the-scenes contributions, was asked whether the Patriots made him an offer in an effort to keep him in New England.
“Like I said, we had a conversation, and it was better for both of us to go in opposite directions,” he replied. “Related to the contract or whatever, it was better for both of us to go (our) separate ways.”
After being dealt, Gilmore, a Rock Hill, S.C., native, was willing to play for Carolina without a contract adjustment. Why?
“It’s better for both of us to be in this position,” the 31-year-old said. “I’m happy I’m back home now. Things just didn’t work out. That’s life. You have to move on and adjust and handle your situation the best way you can.”
Would he have played for the Patriots on that below-market deal once his PUP stint expired?
“I can’t answer that truthfully because I’m not there,” Gilmore said. “If I was on that same schedule, would have played? I don’t know. I’m here now and I’m playing. I feel better. I’m doing everything I can to help the team win and make plays on Sunday.”
Asked to describe his relationship with Belichick, who is both the Patriots’ head coach and their de facto general manager, Gilmore praised his coaching acumen.
“He’s a great coach,” said Gilmore, who won Super Bowl and played in another during his four-plus seasons in New England. “He does whatever he can to help his team win. He taught me a lot of football and how to be a better player and how to prepare. So as a coach, he helped me in a lot of ways.”
Gilmore played 17 defensive snaps Sunday in his Panthers debut, recording a game-sealing interception and helping limit Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts to two catches for 13 yards. He said this week’s game — his first against his former team since the trade — “will not be personal.”
“I’m just going to play the game and try to play as fast as I can,” Gilmore said.