49ers would love Stephon Gilmore but have financial limits

Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The 49ers need cornerback reinforcements, and the Patriots released Stephon Gilmore. There’s a nice match there, but it’ll be hard to afford.

Editor’s update: Before offloading Stephon Gilmore officially, the Patriots traded him to the Panthers for a sixth-round draft pick.

The San Francisco 49ers could stand for some cornerbacks, especially good ones in the wake of Jason Verrett‘s season-ending ACL tear, Josh Norman’s chest injury, Emmanuel Moseley missing games with a knee injury and K’Waun Williams now out with a calf injury.

Oh, and third-round rookie Ambry Thomas has been slow to develop, too.

Anything else on the position? Probably? OK.

Well, the Niners need cornerbacking help. That’s the point. And as of Wednesday, there’s a new face in the mix for the NFL free agency market, four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was somewhat shockingly released by the New England Patriots this week.

Perhaps not too shockingly, though, as the Pats needed to free up cap space, and Gilmore wanted a new deal. Per reports, New England was trying to trade Gilmore but couldn’t find any suitors to take on the $7.7 million owed to him post a would-be trade, as noted by Over the Cap.

Now a free agent, the 31-year-old veteran is free to sign with any team. Perhaps San Francisco.

Stephon Gilmore makes sense for 49ers, but it’s a long shot at happening

Gilmore still gets $8.5 million in bonus money for 2021, so he’s financially happy. Yet he’s not going to lower his asking price on the free-agent market down to a veteran’s minimum. Even if the last time he played was in 2020 before suffering an injury that eventually carried over to him being placed on the physically unable-to-perform list, forcing him to miss the first six weeks of this season.

For the 49ers, yes, Gilmore would be a massive upgrade over essentially any other option on the roster.

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Except there’s Gilmore’s recent injury history. The Niners gambled on that during the offseason with Verrett, and that proved costly. San Francisco also has just $4.2 million in cap space. While that number can be adjusted by restructures and other roster moves, the more of those that pile up, the longer the 49ers proverbially “kick the can” of potential cap troubles down the road. And Gilmore would likely command a sizable chunk of that figure.

A bigger indicator, however, might be how the Niners handled another veteran free-agent cornerback, Richard Sherman, who inevitably signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week ago.

Sherman, who also dealt with injuries last season yet was much more familiar with San Francisco’s defensive personnel and coaches, wasn’t prioritized over other 49ers NFL free agency adds like Norman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Buster Skrine.

Gilmore probably now falls into that boat, too, especially if there’s even the remote chance of a bidding war with multiple teams.

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