Stephon Gilmore: 5 best fits in NFL free agency

Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore is seeking a big pay-day this spring. Here are five potential landing spots for him in 2017 NFL free agency.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has spent his first five NFL seasons with the team that drafted him in the first round out of South Carolina: the Buffalo Bills. Gilmore has gotten better in each of his five seasons in Orchard Park, culminating in his first Pro Bowl nod in 2016.

With the Bills changing coaching staffs yet again, Gilmore could be at a crossroad in his NFL career. Does he stay loyal to the Bills, the team that drafted him No. 10 overall in 2012, or does he test the waters in 2017 unrestricted free agency?

Gilmore wants to be and expects to be paid like a top-five cornerback in football. If he is about to get paid like he anticipates, here are the five best landing spots for the Bills’ standout defensive back in 207 NFL free agency.

5

Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC, South

One potential landing spot for Gilmore in the free agency market has to be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville did a fine job in pass defense last season, but could be looking for a few more pieces this offseason to make this defense rock-solid.

The Jaguars will have $64,982,963 to work with in salary cap space this offseason. This will be the second year in a row that general manager David Caldwell could be making some big splurges in free agency.

Keep in mind that Gilmore has a working relationship with new Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone. Marrone was Gilmore’s head coach in Buffalo from 2013 to 2014. While Marrone specializes with the offensive line, he is well aware of the strengths and limitations of both the Jaguars defense and Gilmore as a shutdown cornerback.

Marrone already has a future superstar in the defensive backfield in safety Jalen Ramsey. While Gus Bradley struggled to win games in his final year in North Florida, it wasn’t his defense’s fault for the Jaguars’ dismal 2016 campaign.

Cornerback isn’t a primary need for the Jaguars, but this is a team, a coach, and an organization that could really use a dynamic playmaker in the back-end in Gilmore. Jacksonville won’t be a primary landing spot for Gilmore, but could be in the conversation for his services.

Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) before a game against the New York Jets at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) before a game against the New York Jets at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

4

Philadelphia Eagles

NFC, East

The Philadelphia Eagles are not in great shape with the 2017 NFL salary cap. They only have a projected $9,523,476 to work with heading into the 2017 NFL offseason. However, we should expect general manager Howie Roseman to create some more space to help second-year head coach Doug Pederson get more of his kind of players.

Pederson has some serious work to do as an NFL head coach, but he does have a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz and a bevy of great assistant coaches. The best coach on the Eagles is easily defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Schwartz was largely responsible for the Eagles pushing towards being .500 last season. His front-seven was all kinds of ferocious. No matter where he’s coaching, a Schwartz defense can get after the passer.

One thing that the Eagles need to consider doing this offseason is upgrade cornerback. Reaching for a guy like Gilmore will be pricey, but he does have a working relationship with Schwartz from their time together in Buffalo.

Malcolm Jenkins and Leodis McKelvin are decent players in the Eagles secondary, but Gilmore is trending up more than those two. Like with Jacksonville, Philadelphia isn’t a front-runner to land Gilmore but could be in the conversation should the Eagles part way with either Jenkins or McKelvin.

Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) against the New England Patriots at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) against the New England Patriots at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

3

Buffalo Bills

AFC, East

Despite likely commanding a big pay bump for 2017, there is a decent chance that Gilmore sticks with the Bills. Buffalo may consider exercising the franchise tag on its shutdown cornerback. That would cost Buffalo a projected $14.3 million.

Frankly since Gilmore wants to be paid like a top-five cornerback, he would have to get at least the franchise tag to stick with the Bills for another year. He’s only played in Buffalo, but has played under three different head coaches: Chan Gailey, Marrone, and Rex Ryan.

Gilmore had a cup of coffee playing under interim head coach Anthony Lynn, now with the Chargers. Does he stick with the Bills to play for new head coach Sean McDermott? It helps that McDermott is the former defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. He should be able to get the most out of Gilmore’s talent in the manner he did with Josh Norman in 2015 in Charlotte.

Buffalo is not in a great situation with the 2017 projected salary cap. The Bills will have roughly $26,627,670 to work with this offseason. This is a team that has obvious holes to fill, but do they want to lose an integral piece in their top-10 secondary by letting Gilmore walk out the door?

It helps that general manager Doug Whaley is adept on the defensive side of the ball, finally getting his type of coach in McDermott to right this ship. However, could you really blame Gilmore for leaving dysfunctional Buffalo for greener pastures this offseason?

Aug 20, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) catches a pass before the game against the New York Giants at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 20, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) catches a pass before the game against the New York Giants at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

2

Cleveland Browns

AFC, North

There are many reasons to believe that 2017 will be kinder to the Cleveland Browns than 2016 was. The Browns went 1-15 in Hue Jackson’s first year as head coach. They just didn’t have enough on-field talent to compete with most NFL franchises.

Fortunately for the Browns, there is some reason for optimism. It can’t be as bad as last year. Jackson was retained, coached some great players in the Senior Bowl, will have 13 draft picks this spring, and more salary cap space than any team in football.

Cleveland will have an absurd $101,881,997 to work with to rebuild this doormat of an AFC franchise this offseason. To get top-tier talent in free agency, Cleveland will have to pay a premium to land guys like Gilmore on the open market.

Bringing in an ultra-aggressive defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams only adds more bite to Jackson’s 2017 Browns staff. Williams has shown that he can get productivity out of all levels of his defense. They’ve already got Joe Haden at cornerback. Why not double-down and get two elite defensive backs to solidify the Browns pass defense by grabbing Gilmore?

Until Cleveland shows us that they can draft competently, they’ll have to win in free agency by overspending to get a player it wants. Jackson hasn’t lost the locker room yet, and probably won’t. Landing a blue-chip free agent like Gilmore would instantly improve the Browns’ overall defense.

Sep 1, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) and defensive back Robert Blanton (26) stand on the field before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions win 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 1, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) and defensive back Robert Blanton (26) stand on the field before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions win 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

1

Tennessee Titans

AFC, South

Perhaps the one team to keep the keenest eye on in 2017 NFL free agency is the Tennessee Titans. This will be the second season that general manager Jon Robinson will have been in Nashville. He has a better understanding of what he and head coach Mike Mularkey are working with. 2017 may see the Titans finally back in the AFC Playoffs.

Tennessee struggled mightily outside of the numbers this season. The Titans struggled to go vertically in the passing game, despite having an obvious franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Even though defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is one of the best secondary coaches of all-time, his pass defense finished as the third-worst in football.

Robinson is going to use this offseason to upgrade his secondary one way or another. The Titans do have the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to essentially the Jared Goff trade. They could go with a guy like Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey or LSU’s Tre’Davious White at No. 5 if they feel so inclined.

While selecting a blue-chip defensive back in the first round could be the right call for the Titans, maybe bringing in a guy the caliber of Gilmore could make the Titans a playoff-caliber team in 2017? They finished 8-8 last year, but still looked to be a team that had serious growth potential under Mularkey.

Playing in a winnable AFC South division, having continuity at head coach and at general manager make the Titans a sneaky-good free agency destination this season. They will have $67,615,138 to get this team playoff ready. Look for the Titans to have one of the best offseasons in football.

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