FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — If you can’t beat ‘em …
In five NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Stephon Gilmore lost seven times in his eight appearances against the AFC East rival New England Patriots. Gilmore never reached postseason in Buffalo, but he watched New England advance at least as far as the conference title game every year of his pro career and twice win the Super Bowl.
Ready for a change, Gilmore defected within the division, which the Patriots last failed to win in 2008 (when quarterback Tom Brady was injured), to join a New England dynasty now approaching two decades of dominance.
“Just the sense of urgency that is here, it’s super fast,” Gilmore said Wednesday after the second practice of the Patriots' mandatory three-day minicamp when asked what had surprised him the most about his new club.
“It’s just being around the different guys and being around different people than from where you have come from. It’s fun. You’ve just got to learn on the run.”
The Patriots pounced to sign Gilmore, arguably the best corner on this year's free agent market, locking him up for five years and $65 million. His $40 million in guarantees exceeds every other player on the roster, Brady included.
But Gilmore makes an already capable secondary, albeit one that lost cornerback Logan Ryan to the Tennessee Titans this offseason, that much better. Pairing Gilmore with Malcolm Butler gives New England perhaps the best one-two tandem of corners in the NFL.
With the lingering uncertainty surrounding Butler’s contract, though, Gilmore could become a mainstay in the defensive backfield, while Butler could potentially be playing his last season with the team after a rumored deal with the New Orleans Saints near the draft failed to materialize.
“I think the beauty of playing in the secondary is that stuff doesn’t matter,” safety Devin McCourty said Wednesday. “Because at the end of the day, it’s all about how we play as a unit. To me, that has been the cool thing — to see guys talking, guys laughing and joking, Steph fitting into the group like he’s been here for years. To me, that’s the key, and that’s what I have seen so far.”
The Patriots ranked 12th in the regular season last year in passing yards allowed (237.9 per game), though the defense as a whole paced the league in points allowed (15.6 per game). The unit frequently sees the ball in the air given the leads Brady and Co. typically provide.
Having Butler and Gilmore gives defensive coordinator Matt Patricia ample flexibility in crafting options to attack high-powered offenses. Gilmore (6-1, 190) is long and athletic, while Butler (5-11, 190) is quicker and more physical. Assuming both handle their responsibilities, especially if they can do it in man-on-man coverage, could mean more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Simply put, Gilmore’s arrival is yet another reason why the Patriots appear to be among the favorites to win another Super Bowl this season.
“I’m happy I’m here,” Gilmore said. “I’m ready to do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Lorenzo Reyes, USA Today Sports