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Bills won't use franchise tag on cornerback Stephon Gilmore

The Buffalo Bills will not use the franchise tag on cornerback Stephon Gilmore this year, The Buffalo News has learned.

The deadline for teams to apply the tag to an impending free agent is Wednesday. One league source told The News there is “no chance” of that happening.

That means Gilmore will hit the open market March 9, unless the two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term contract before then. It’s estimated that the franchise tag for a cornerback this season will cost about $15 million.

For a team with an estimated $21 million in salary-cap space, that would severely handicap the Bills’ ability to sign free agents, be it their own or other players set to hit the open market.

Gilmore, 26, had a career-best five interceptions in 2016, making 15 starts and finishing with 48 tackles. He missed the season finale because of a concussion.

Originally selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, he got into the game for the first time in his career and had an interception in the AFC’s win. Gilmore has made no secret of his desire to be paid like one of the best players in the NFL in his position. To do so, the Bills would have to give him a contract that averages somewhere between $11 million and $14 million per season. Currently, there are 11 cornerbacks who are scheduled to have a cap hit of at least $10 million in 2017.

Gilmore played last season on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, earning $11.082 million, an amount that ranked fourth among cornerbacks in base salary, according to the contract website spotrac.com.

At the end of the 2016 season, Gilmore made it clear he would prefer not to get the franchise tag. With more than half the league expected to have at least $40 million in cap space, a rich contract seems all but guaranteed for Gilmore, who is widely viewed as the best cornerback set to hit the open market.

The question now becomes, how much will the Bills value him?

They have exclusive negotiating rights for another week, but with agents and front-office personnel from all 32 teams converging in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, Gilmore’s representatives will certainly come away with a good idea of interest in his services.

While at the Pro Bowl, Gilmore said he had spoken with new Bills coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

“They seem like they’re going to turn it around out there, but … I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “They got a decision to make.”

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