New England Patriots trade CB Stephon Gilmore to Carolina Panthers for draft pick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A trade for New England Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the return of Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey helped the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday get over their first loss of the season.

Both happened almost simultaneously as players made their way to the practice field.

The Gilmore trade in particular brightened the mood.

"That's pretty dope, man,'' cornerback Donte Jackson said.

Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer sent a 2023 sixth-round pick to New England for Gilmore, who had been set to be released later in the day. The 31-year-old from nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina, is expected to come off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6.

Fitterer said he expects Gilmore, who is scheduled to be in Charlotte for a physical on Thursday, to be ready for an Oct. 24 game against the New York Giants.

McCaffrey could be available to play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing a 36-28 loss at Dallas with a hamstring injury. Coach Matt Rhule said his star back looked good in practice Wednesday despite being limited and likely would be a game-time decision.

Not all the news was good for Carolina (3-1). Linebacker Shaq Thompson (foot) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Eagles and left tackle Cameron Erving (neck) is in doubt after missing Wednesday's practice.

But the news of the Gilmore trade softened both blows. Jackson said the trade sent a message to the defense that "they're confident we can win now.''

Said defensive tackle DaQuan Jones: "Everyone in this building believes we can win now.''

The Panthers got wind that Gilmore might be available on Tuesday night. That turned to reality on Wednesday morning when it was announced the Patriots planned to release the four-time Pro Bowl corner, who is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a partially torn quad.

Gilmore became available because the Patriots were unable to get the corner to agree to a restructured deal. The Panthers beat out several other teams that showed interest in trading for Gilmore.

They will be responsible for $5.8 million of Gilmore's 2021 contract. Fitterer said Gilmore agreed to play the remainder of the season without an extension, but he's open to one after the year.

Much depends on how Gilmore plays. Coach Matt Rhule said he can't wait to get Gilmore on the field.

"I think anytime you can get a [former] All-Pro player for a future sixth, we're going to do it, right?" he said. "... This was just one of those things where it was too good to pass up. He's too good of a player and he's from here. Football character-wise, he just adds to the core of what we are."

The need for a cover corner began when Carolina lost first-round pick Jaycee Horn to a broken foot in a Sept. 23 win at Houston. Fitterer traded last week for Jacksonville's C.J. Henderson, a first-round pick in 2020.

Henderson remains somewhat of a project.

"C.J. is for the future,'' Fitterer said. "Stephon is to win now.''

Fitterer also didn't rule out that Horn could return late in the season or possibly the playoffs, if Carolina qualifies, after undergoing surgery. But he made it clear the goal is to make the playoffs.

Gilmore gives the Panthers a veteran who can have a positive impact on a young secondary until then and one who can be an asset if Carolina makes the playoffs.

He also happens to live three doors down from Fitterer in a neighborhood south of Charlotte. Fitterer called Gilmore a "quality guy'' who will be a "great presence for the younger guys.''

Gilmore and Patriots coach Bill Belichick had both offered public goodbyes before the announced trade.

"We enjoyed so much success together and you have been an incredible inspiration for my individual achievements," Gilmore wrote on Twitter. "... To Mr. [Robert] Kraft, the coaches, and the organization thank you for providing me with this platform and allowing me to be part of greatness. Most of all I want to thank my teammates who lined up next to me every Sunday with one goal in mind."

Belichick praised Gilmore in a statement as a "true professional and class act" and said the decision to move on from the cornerback was mutual. Gilmore is in line for a potential reunion with his former team when the Panthers host the Patriots in Week 9.

He has a base salary of $7 million in 2021 after signing a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots in 2017 and being advanced $5 million of his 2021 earnings in the 2020 season. Moving on from Gilmore is set to give the Patriots, who were roughly $54,000 under the salary cap, an additional $5.8 million in cap space.

Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, had skipped the Patriots' mandatory minicamp in June while publicly expressing displeasure with his contract during the offseason. He tied a career low with one interception last season, playing in just 11 games after missing time because of a COVID-19 diagnosis and the quad injury.

With Gilmore out to start the season, J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills have served as the Patriots' starting cornerbacks, with Jonathan Jones as a top option in the slot.

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold faced Gilmore twice when he was with the New York Jets, so he's glad he won't have to face Gilmore when the Patriots come to town. Gilmore had two interceptions against him.

"Dang good player,'' Darnold said. "I had two of my toughest games against him.''

ESPN's Mike Reiss contributed to this report.