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Stephon Gilmore is a perfect fit for Cowboys defense

The veteran cornerback fills a big need for the Dallas Cowboys in their secondary.

Philadelphia Eagles v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Cowboys made their first outside acquisition of the season, and it wasn’t a free agent signing. Almost out of nowhere, they traded for veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore. After spending the 2022 season with the Colts, Gilmore now heads to Dallas in exchange for a fifth round pick.

Gilmore was the tenth overall pick in the 2012 draft out of South Carolina, selected by the Bills four spots after the Cowboys took Morris Claiborne. Gilmore has had the more productive career by a large margin, with five Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. He also won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.

Gilmore has long been a true shutdown corner, a growing rarity in a league that becomes more pass-happy every year. Throughout his five years in Buffalo and four in New England, Gilmore was frequently tasked with shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver and taking them out of the game. More often than not, he did just that.

The Patriots decided to trade Gilmore to the Panthers during the 2021 season, shortly after he had been activated off the PUP list due to an injury sustained the previous year. Gilmore only appeared in eight games that year as he ramped up to full speed again. At the end of that season, he joined the Colts on a two-year deal, the final year of which the Cowboys now inherit.

Gilmore’s specialty has always been his ability in press man coverage. Even at 32-years-old, Gilmore held up well in that regard. Gilmore played the 25th most man coverage snaps last year, finishing 21st in completion rate allowed and 19th in passer rating allowed.

Those aren’t elite numbers, and nobody should expect Gilmore to come in an replicate his 2019 DPOY campaign. But Gilmore played very good football on a very bad Colts team last year, and showed he still excels at what he was known for.

That’s great for the Cowboys, as defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has relied heavily on man coverage throughout his time here. In 2021, the Cowboys ran some type of man coverage at the third highest rate of any defense in the NFL; that rate dropped this past year, largely due to the challenges of playing younger defenders once Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis went down with injuries.

Gilmore obviously fills a big hole on a defense looking to continue its recent run of dominance. Brown is a free agent, and not expected to field many offers while he continues to rehab, and Lewis is entering the final year of his contract. DaRon Bland impressed as a rookie, and may have locked up the starting nickel corner job already, but there were questions at the outside corner spot opposite Trevon Diggs.

Adding a player like Gilmore is great for a few reasons. For starters, he’s an accomplished veteran who can put up numbers at the outside corner spot, filling that need. But with just one year remaining on his contract, and the fact that Gilmore will be 33 by the end of this season, the Cowboys aren’t preventing themselves from drafting a cornerback to develop behind Gilmore if they decide they want to.

Another factor here is the veteran presence Gilmore can have on such a young cornerback room, namely for Diggs. Gilmore has long been regarded as one of the smartest corners in the game, and he’s learned from some truly sharp defensive minds throughout his career. With Diggs entering the final year of his contract, and the Cowboys undoubtedly looking to lock him up long term, the young corner will benefit greatly from playing alongside someone like Gilmore. It may be a similar situation to how Tyler Smith learned from Jason Peters this past year.

This move has to be considered a big win for the Cowboys. Gilmore brings similar credibility to a Jalen Ramsey type while coming at a fraction of the cost, with his 2023 salary sitting at just under $8 million. And acquiring him for a fifth-round pick should be considered highway robbery.

This is a low level of risk on a player who is still performing at a very high level, and it’s worth taking a shot given the price tag. Given how much frustration the Cowboys front office has (rightfully) generated over their aversion to making splash moves lately, the sheer fact that this trade happened at all feels like a win.

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