Carolina Panthers' Stephon Gilmore says handling of injury, contract contributed to departure from New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said Wednesday that he didn't agree with how the New England Patriots handled his return from surgery on his torn quadriceps, which along with his contract was a primary factor in his departure.

The Patriots traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 6 in exchange for a sixth-round draft choice, and with the Patriots visiting the Panthers on Sunday (CBS, 1 p.m. ET), Gilmore now gets to face his former team.

"I just didn't like how they handled my situation, my injury. A lot went on with that I didn't agree with," Gilmore told Patriots reporters on a conference call from Carolina.

"Now that I'm here, I'm able to do the things I have to do to get me back ready to where I need to be. I learned a lot there. I have a lot of friends there. A lot of great coaches. I just didn't like how they handled my situation with my injury."

Gilmore partially tore the quad in a loss to the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 20, 2020, and later underwent surgery. He said Wednesday that he wasn't ready for the start of training camp in late July.

Asked what the Patriots could have done differently, Gilmore said: "I don't want to get into specifics. I just didn't agree with it. I've put it behind me, and [am getting] ready for this game."

In addition to the injury situation, Gilmore acknowledged that his contract led to his time with the Patriots coming to an end. The 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year was scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million, which he had previously stated was less than he believed he was worth.

"That's a reason also, too," he said. "But a lot goes on into it. It's not just one specific thing. At the end of the day, it's a business. They treat it like a business, and we made the best decision for each other. ... We had a conversation and it was better for both of us to go in opposite directions, whether it was the contract or whatever."

Gilmore said he didn't have a sense the Patriots would trade him, describing the deal as something that happened "last minute" when coach Bill Belichick called him to relay the news.

"I was OK with it," Gilmore said. "It's a business. You can't really control things when you're playing in the National Football League. You just have to go with it, and I did. God put me in this position, and I'm happy."

Gilmore made his Panthers debut on Sunday in a 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, playing 17 snaps as he eased his way back into action. He intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.

A native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Gilmore was asked to explain why he's willing to play in Carolina under the contract that he wasn't pleased with in New England.

"It was better for both of us to be in this position and I'm happy I'm back home now," he answered. "Things just didn't work out. That's life. You have to move on, and handle your situation the best way you can. ... This is in the past. We have a big game this week coming up. I'm just looking forward to that opportunity."