GREEN BAY, Wis. — The marriage would have been convenient for Stephon Gilmore and the Green Bay Packers, except for one thing: There was no way he could have come to town via a trade.
The Carolina Panthers acquired the former All-Pro cornerback from the New England Patriots for a sixth-round draft pick in 2023.
If that’s all it took, why didn’t the Packers make a similar offer?
Because that’s not what prevented general manager Brian Gutekunst from making a move; it was the salary cap.
The Packers had been exploring ways to acquire Gilmore, who is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from surgery last year to repair a torn quad.
Gilmore has about $5.8 million remaining on his base salary of $7 million this season, the final year of his deal. Even after restructuring just about every veteran contract they could this offseason, the Packers still had only about $6.5 million in available salary-cap space for the rest of this year. Teams need space to make in-season practice-squad elevations and other injury-related moves.
So there was really only one way the Packers could have ended up with Gilmore: If the Patriots cut him and he were willing to take a lower-salaried deal.
The Packers had been in touch with the Patriots as soon as it became known they planned to move on from Gilmore. At first, Gilmore wanted a massive new deal to go along with any trade.
Even when he backed off that demand, the Patriots were having trouble finding a trade partner. At that point, it became smart for the Patriots to get word out that the Packers were going to sign him if there were no trade, hence the reports that came from several New England-area media outlets on Wednesday morning. That likely prompted the Panthers to get involved.
Before the trade with the Panthers went through, Packers receiver Davante Adams replied to Gilmore’s farewell post on Instagram by saying, “Call me.”
“I guess he didn’t see it,” Adams said jokingly later Wednesday. “I kept it with the IG comment just to see just how hungry he was to be a Packer, but I guess he had other plans.”
When asked whether he actually thought Gilmore to Green Bay was a reality, Adams said: “I wasn’t expecting that to happen, anyway. I think they got a pretty good feeling of how we’re going to move as a defense, so I wasn’t really expecting it to happen. I only commented to stir some s— up just to be funny. It’d be great to have him. He’s a great player and one of the best in the league still, for sure. So, it wasn’t a joke like I didn’t want him here – definitely would want him here but definitely did not expect us to pick him up.”
Carolina will be a homecoming of sorts for Gilmore, who was raised in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina — where the Panthers are expected to move their team headquarters within two years.
Gilmore was the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and is one of three defensive backs selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons (along with Jamal Adams and Jalen Ramsey).
Even before the Gilmore situation came to a head, the Packers signed journeyman cornerback Rasul Douglas off the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Douglas was originally a third-round pick of the Eagles — 99th overall — in the 2017 draft. After three years in Philadelphia, he played last season in Carolina, where he made 11 starts.
The Packers’ need at cornerback was, and still is, obvious. Jaire Alexander’s shoulder injury, which occurred in Sunday’s win over the Steelers, remains an issue — potentially a season-ending one. Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday that no decision has been made about a course of treatment for Alexander, but the hope is that he can avoid surgery. If surgery is required, LaFleur said it would likely end Alexander’s season.
“We’re going to try to avoid that at all costs,” LaFleur said, adding that Alexander will “most likely” miss Sunday’s game at Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET, Fox) at a minimum.
Fellow cornerback Kevin King returned to practice Wednesday; he has missed the past two games because of a concussion and still has steps in the protocol to pass before he’s fully cleared. Without Alexander and King, the Packers finished the game against the Steelers with rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes, recently acquired Isaac Yiadom and nickel back Chandon Sullivan as their top three cornerbacks.