All In” is not exactly an accurate motto for the Buffalo Bills’ offseason.
“Some In,” would be better.
In the case of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, it could be “Not In.”
Speaking to the media during mandatory minicamp last month, Gilmore left open the possibility of missing at least some of training camp when he said, “whenever I get there, I’m going to compete.”
When asked if that meant it’s possible “whenever” means he won’t be in attendance when the Bills report to St. John Fisher College, Gilmore cryptically said “I mean, we’ll see.”
Whether Gilmore would actually stay home in hopes of landing a new contract is one of the bigger questions hanging over the team as it prepares to depart for Pittsford.
On the surface, it doesn’t make much financial sense for the Bills’ top cornerback to stay away. With daily fines of up to $30,000 for each practice and up to about $650,000 for each preseason game missed, he could lose more than $3 million if he skipped all of camp.
For a player wanting more money, that’s counterproductive. Gilmore seems to understand that. He tweeted before the team’s mandatory minicamp that he was “just here so I won’t get fined,” borrowing Marshawn Lynch’s now-famous line.
But Gilmore may feel like he has no other outlet to adequately express his desire for a new deal. With the Bills having picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, he’ll be paid $11.082 million in 2016.
After that, he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
Surely, the contracts signed this offseason by cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Josh Norman got Gilmore’s attention. Jenkins received a five-year deal worth up to $62 million with the New York Giants, including nearly $30 million guaranteed, while Norman got a whopping five-year deal worth potentially $75 million from Washington, with $50 million guaranteed.
“Those guys are great players, but I know what I can do,” Gilmore said. “I know what I can do on an island and make plays. … When they got those deals it helped the cornerback market out a lot, so I’m looking forward to it.”
As Gilmore referenced, the Bills ask a lot out of their cornerbacks. It’s not uncommon for them to play man-to-man coverage.
The team obviously feels like Gilmore can do that well, or it wouldn’t have picked up his option. At 25, he’s entering the prime of his career.
Gilmore said last month he’s told his agent he would prefer not to negotiate a new contract during the season, so there is some urgency on both sides to strike an extension. A holdout would only increase that.
“Obviously you want your guys here and things,” coach Rex Ryan said last month. “One thing I know about Stephon: I know he’s going to be ready to roll, he’s going to be in shape, he’s going to do all that stuff, there’s no doubt.
“He loves it. He can’t help himself. He’s out there, he talks to the guys all the time, what we’re putting in, all that. He’s staying up on everything, but any negotiation, all those types of things, that’s him, that’s on him. I’m never going to interfere with that, that’s not my job. … Do I want him here? Of course.”
Gilmore didn’t take part in the team portion of minicamp practices as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury that limited his 2015 season to 12 games. In that time, though, he finished with 18 passes defensed and three interceptions, both single-season bests.
“He’s obviously very important,” Ryan said. “He’s a tremendous player, and corners are hard to find, that’s for sure.”
So why haven’t the two sides struck a deal? Gilmore’s injury history could be a concern to the team. He’s played in all 16 games of a season just once in his four-year career.
There’s also the matter of quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s contract situation. If he has a good season, the Bills will need to re-sign him and would likely prioritize a quarterback over a cornerback if they were forced to make a choice.
In the unlikely event Gilmore’s absence drags into the regular season, the Bills would be forced to find a cornerback, as Ryan said. They did that last year when they drafted Ronald Darby in the second round out of Florida State. He became an immediate starter and challenged for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
As spring practices progressed, there was hope the team struck gold again in the form of sixth-round draft pick Kevon Seymour out of Southern California.
“I’m not going to put him in that class yet, but we’re close,” Ryan said of comparing Seymour to Darby. “He has done a great job.”
If Seymour continues to impress during training camp, that could also impact negotiations with Gilmore. If the team feels like it has a player who could be Gilmore’s eventual replacement, they’d be less likely to offer up the type of contract he’s likely after.
That means Gilmore could be waiting a while for a new deal.
“I’m not frustrated because I know what I can do on the field,” he said. “My game speaks for itself and whatever happens – it happens now or it happens later – it happens, so my No. 1 priority is just to prove myself on the field.”