Sports Q

Sports Q: What is the most surprising personnel move Bill Belichick has made?

Lawyer Milloy celebrating winning the AFC Championship with Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft in 2002. John Bohn/The Boston Globe

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I know we should expect the unexpected with Bill Belichick after all these years, but I was blindsided by the decision to move on from Stephon Gilmore. I don’t get it at all.  Is this the most stunning move Belichick has ever made? – Tom P.

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It’s up there. There are a lot of unexpected, even shocking, moves to choose from. My initial reaction is that it is second, behind cutting popular longtime safety Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 opener.

Back then, we didn’t know to expect such emotionless bottom-line decisions from Belichick, and we didn’t necessarily recognize the clues of when an accomplished player’s reputation exceeded his production, either. That one was a wallop.

Other candidates: Trading Logan Mankins to the Bucs in 2014 … Sending Richard Seymour to the Raiders in ’09 …The Jimmy Garoppolo deal to the Niners at the trading deadline in ’17 … Moving on from Randy Moss 11 years and a day ago from Wednesday’s date … Cutting Jamie Collins in ’16 … Dealing Deion Branch to the Seahawks for a first-round pick before the ’06 season. Like I said, there have been a lot.

(Letting Tom Brady play for another NFL franchise is in a wholly different category.)

I’d put the trade of Gilmore to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick behind cutting Milloy and just ahead of the Mankins and Garoppolo trades. It’s not just a surprise Gilmore is gone, it’s a bummer. He was an extraordinary player for the Patriots, starring in the Super Bowl LIII win over the allegedly unstoppable Rams, and won NFL defensive player of the year the next season. He was a player and person of quiet but obvious confidence who always put the team first. J.C. Jackson is an excellent corner and Jalen Mills is playing well, but you can’t tell me Gilmore wouldn’t help the Patriots this season if healthy.

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Of course, that’s the catch, and it’s one of the reasons that perhaps this shouldn’t be such a shock. He hasn’t played this season while recovering from quadriceps surgery that abbreviated his 2020 season. He’s 31 and plays a position where spryness is critical. He also had a large salary cap hit, and had been engaged in a passive but effective contract dispute.

Not many of Belichick’s sudden moves to part ways with great Patriots have backfired. (Branch’s departure probably hurt them the most.) Maybe Gilmore will come through in a big situation this season for the Panthers, or perhaps time will prove that Belichick recognized Gilmore’s best was behind him before anyone else did. But he was an admirable player here, and it’s always a drag to see an admirable player go.

What does everyone else think? What is the most stunning personnel move Belichick has ever made? I’ll hear you in the comments.

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