Back in February, we wrote up and projected a mammoth contract for Buffalo Bills star cornerback Stephon Gilmore - six years, $73.5 million. This projection, averaging just under $12.5 million per year in "new money" or $12.25 million in total, would have placed Gilmore about $1 million below what was then the elite tier of highly paid cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Joe Haden), who each make $13.5 million per year or more.
Then free agency happened. In our original response to the five-year, $62.5 million free agent contract cornerback Janoris Jenkins signed with the New York Giants, we said:
"When we projected a Gilmore contract extension a few weeks back, we came in right near what Jenkins signed for, just under $12.5 million per year over a five-year extension. Gilmore is most likely viewed as a better player than Jenkins, and is almost two full years younger (Jenkins will turn 28 in October, while Gilmore will turn 26 in September). With Jenkins helping to drive up the next tier of cornerback contracts, an extension for Gilmore will most likely need to target a $13 million per-year average."
Then the bizarre Josh Norman situation occurred, with the Carolina Panthers rescinding the franchise tag and Norman eventually signing with the Washington Redskins for a new league-high five-year, $75 million contract, averaging a cool $15 million per year.
What effect will these events have on Gilmore's value?
I am certain that Gilmore and his representatives will attempt to use the Jenkins and Norman contacts to drive a narrative. They can argue that the cornerback positional value is skyrocketing - and even if Gilmore doesn't deserve to be paid in the upper-echelon from his past play and given his injury history (they will obviously preface such argument by saying he does), his youth, potential, and positional importance means the Bills have to overpay now for the contract to fit in properly later.
This is a relatively flawed argument in my mind. Norman has played like one of the best corners in the league the past two seasons. Just like Peterson and Sherman when they were coming up on the end of their rookie contracts, Norman was going to enter that upper echelon of contracts, either with his original team or someone else.
While Norman's relevance can be argued away, the Jenkins deal will definitely cause the Bills' front office headaches. There has been no change in that sense since we wrote the post-free agency update quoted above. While Jenkins has played in seven more games over four years than Gilmore, and has one more interception, 78 more tackles, and five touchdowns to Gilmore's zero, he is almost two years older, and lacks Gilmore's unique physical traits. Jenkins is undersized (5' 10", Gilmore is 6' 0") and doesn't possess the same shut-down ability Gilmore has shown when at his best.
In our original projection, we wrote about a gap between the Byron Maxwell and Jimmy Smith contracts around $10 million average per year, and the upper tier being over $13.5 million. We said that this left considerable negotiating room if those numbers were established as a floor and ceiling. Jenkins' contract dragged that floor up to a minimum of $12.5 million average per year. I still think that a contract which pays Gilmore more money than Joe Haden ($13.5 million average per year) would be a slight overpay, but it is now definitely in the realm of possibility.
Jenkins' corner partner with the Los Angeles Rams, Trumaine Johnson, is someone Bills fans should keep an eye on. Johnson is currently under the franchise tag (not being a first-round pick, the Rams didn't have the fifth-year option to exercise), but is much closer in age to Gilmore than Jenkins. He has also missed some games (55 games to Gilmore's 53) and has the elite size (6'2") teams covet in cornerbacks. Johnson is also coming off of a season where he was second in the league with seven interceptions, and has 15 over his four-year career (Gilmore has nine). Johnson, like Jenkins, has also benefitted from playing behind a very talented front four that has rivaled the Bills' in past production. If Johnson and the Rams agree to a contract extension, it will have significant implications for Gilmore and the Bills.
In summing up, Gilmore is going to be paid. While six years and $73.5 million seemed reasonable three months ago, it is probably not now. Realistically, the Bills should expect to pay Gilmore about $78 million over a six-year contract, with the true extension being five years, $67 million. Jenkins received a hefty $28.8 million fully guaranteed, so the Bills will in all likelihood have to beat that number, as well.
For 2016, any extension the Bills sign with Gilmore will drop his current $11.082 million cap number. By how much will depend on how the Bills structure the deal. If structured with your typical signing bonus (say around $20 million, as Jenkins received a true signing bonus of $14.5 million), then Gilmore's cap hit would be more than halved.