Patriots trade All-Pro CB Stephon Gilmore to Panthers for 2023 sixth-round pick

The Carolina Panthers beat the rest of the NFL to the Stephon Gilmore punch on Wednesday, trading for the New England Patriots cornerback before he was to hit the open market when the Patriots planned to release him.

For a 2023 sixth-round draft selection, the Patriots get something for what might have been nothing, and the Panthers get a premier cornerback to bolster their secondary. Gilmore won't be eligible to play until after Week 6 under NFL rules for players on the PUP list; he'll presumably make his Panthers debut in an Oct. 24 road game against the New York Giants.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer, speaking to reporters later Wednesday, said he expects Gilmore to be ready to play in the Week 7 matchup with the Giants and that he is open to signing Gilmore to an extension, but it isn't a priority.

Gilmore underwent surgery to repair a quadriceps injury sustained last December, and he was subsequently unable to negotiate a new contract with the Patriots. Gilmore, 31, did not participate in training camp and was placed on the PUP list. NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported, however, that Gilmore is healthy and there is "nothing wrong" with his quad.

New England coach Bill Belichick released a statement Wednesday thanking Gilmore for his service -- Gilmore was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the Patriots in 2019. The former first-round pick has been named to four Pro Bowls, the last three consecutively.

The Panthers lost their 2021 first-round draft pick, cornerback Jaycee Horn, to a potentially season-ending foot injury, and responded with another trade to acquire C.J. Henderson from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It remains to be seen whether the Panthers can procure the new contract Gilmore sought with the Patriots, but the club does have extensive salary cap space to work with -- $19.26 million, per Over The Cap.

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