Stephon Gilmore entered free agency in a bit of an unfamiliar position.
The former AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year was a man without a team, and it took him nearly a month to land with a new club. He found a home in Indianapolis, where Gilmore has been welcomed with open arms by a franchise he sees as a perfect fit for him at this stage in his career.
"I think the Colts came in and I talked to the coaches and it just felt right," Gilmore said Monday, via the Associated Press. "It was one of those things where it just felt right in my heart to come here, especially with the talent on the team. Watching them from afar last year, what they did and they were right there, I just wanted to come in and try to help the team get over that hump."
Gilmore has his own hurdle to clear at 31 years old. After putting together two elite seasons in New England in 2018 and 2019 -- the latter being the campaign in which he earned the highest defensive honor thanks to his six interceptions and 20 passes defensed -- Gilmore suffered a partially torn quadriceps that ended his season in Week 15 and delayed his return to the field in 2021. His time in New England would end before long, with the Patriots and Gilmore agreeing to part ways before trading him to Carolina for the meager return of a sixth-round pick.
Gilmore initially played well with the Panthers, recording two INTs in his first two games, but his performance started to tail off as Carolina neared the end of a lost season. It was fair to question whether the quad injury affected Gilmore in 2021, and with the Panthers not in a position to keep a veteran player looking to compete immediately, he was left to find employment elsewhere.
He didn't receive much interest in the initial waves of free agency. Luckily for the Colts, Gilmore was still around when Indianapolis turned its attention to cornerback, where Indianapolis needed to find a replacement for another veteran who reclaimed his career with the Colts: Xavier Rhodes. Gilmore believes he can enjoy a similar reboot of sorts with a team clearly ready to contend in 2022, but admitted he knows nothing is guaranteed.
"You have to prove yourself every year, so I take that mindset into each and every year," Gilmore said. "I've got to earn it. You can't do that until you put the work in, until you go out each and every week and earn it."
If Gilmore can rediscover what made him a premier corner in New England, the Colts just might fulfill those ambitions.
"We have a lot of great players on the defensive side of the ball and with my skillset, I think I can play anything they want me to play," he said. "I'm just looking forward to just getting better as an individual, working on my technique and playing the scheme the right way."