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McDermott faces a familiar situation with Gilmore

It would make perfect sense if Sean McDermott were sensing a bit of déjà vu these days.

A year ago, when he was defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, his top cornerback, Josh Norman, was about to enter free agency.

Now, as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, his current top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, is also about to become a free agent.

The Panthers tried negotiating a long-term deal with Norman, but when the numbers grew too steep for their liking, they placed a franchise tag on him.

On Wednesday, NFL teams can begin placing franchise and transition tags on impending free agents. Barring any breakthrough in a negotiation that has gone on for months with no signs of significant progress, it's reasonable to expect the Bills will at least give consideration to putting a franchise tag on Gilmore before letting him hit the open market. This year's projected franchise tag for cornerbacks is $14.3 million.

Given that the Bills don't have a ton of salary cap space and also face a decision on whether to pick up the hefty option on a contract extension for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, one has to wonder how much potential McDermott sees for history repeating itself.

On April 20, with talks for a long-term agreement going nowhere, Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman rescinded Norman's franchise tag and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. Two days later, Norman signed a five-year, $75-million contract with the Washington Redskins.

Since last summer's training camp, Gilmore, whose 2016 salary was $11.082 million, has made overtures that he's seeking a similar, if not better, deal. Since the end of the 2015 season, he has described himself as an "elite corner."

It's fairly clear that, beyond their respective incomes, Gilmore doesn't see any cause for change in the way he and Norman -- both of whom hail from South Carolina -- compare with each other since both entered the NFL in the 2012 draft.

Gilmore, a standout at the University of South Carolina, joined the Bills as a first-round pick, 10th overall. Norman, who starred at Coastal Carolina, was a fifth-round choice, 143rd overall, of the Panthers.

What isn't nearly as clear is how the Bills see his value. Within the last year, one high-ranking team official said the club had no intention of paying Gilmore at the level of Norman. Whether the arrival of McDermott, who is expected to have a strong say in how the roster is assembled, will change that remains to be seen.

For McDermott, turning around a Buffalo defense that has ranked 19th in yards allowed (and 15th and 16th in points allowed) in each of the past two seasons is at or very near the top of his to-do list. Doing so without Gilmore would figure to make that more challenging, at least in the short term.

The scheme that McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier employ calls for zone coverage, in which Gilmore thrived when Jim Schwartz utilized a similar concept as the Bills' defensive coordinator in 2014. Gilmore also more than held his own while playing primarily man-to-man coverage for former Bills coach Rex Ryan the past two seasons.

Although Norman's absence, alone, wasn't to blame, it certainly was a factor in McDermott's Carolina defense slipping from its No. 6 NFL ranking in points and yards allowed in 2015 to 26th and 21st in those categories a year later. The defensive collapse contributed greatly to the Panthers going from a 15-1 record on the way to Super Bowl 50 to a 6-10 finish last season.

Norman also didn't come close to living up to the money he received, reinforcing the notion he was a far better fit in McDermott's scheme than he was in the defense Joe Barry ran in Washington before being fired after the 2016 season.

As he sets out to get off to the best start possible as a rookie head coach, McDermott is undoubtedly seeking all of the help he can get.

Gilmore would figure to be an important piece. Is he important enough for the Bills to pay at least $15 million per season? Is he important enough for them to give him a franchise tag to make sure he doesn't get away?

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