INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Stephon Gilmore searched patiently for the right place to jump-start his career.
He found it in Indianapolis.
After agreeing to a two-year deal late last week, the Colts announced Monday they had signed the NFL's 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl cornerback — just in time for the start of offseason workouts.
“I think the Colts came in and I talked to the coaches and it just felt right," Gilmore said during a video call. “It was one of those things where it just felt right in my heart to come here, especially with the talent on the team. Watching them from afar last year, what they did and they were right there, I just wanted to come in and try to help the team get over that hump.”
It's certainly possible — especially if Gilmore returns to his Pro Bowl form though he hasn't been the same since enduring a partially torn quad near the end of the 2020 season.
He acknowledged Monday that the injury lingered into last season when he was dealt from New England to Carolina and was limited to just eight games, three starts and 16 tackles. He still had two interceptions.
If Gilmore plays anywhere near his previous standard, it will be a major upgrade for a defense that already has three-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, three additional players with Pro Bowl credentials — defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, cornerback Kenny Moore II and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, promising second-year pass rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeybingbo and linebacker Bobby Okereke, who finished 14th in the league with 132 tackles last season.
The Colts needed cornerbacks after opting not to re-sign cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a three-time Pro Bowler who struggled last season, and trading another starter, Rock Ya-Sin, to the Las Vegas Raiders to get Ngakoue.
And Gilmore believes he can help fill the void now that he's healthy.
“You have to prove yourself every year, so I take that mindset into each and every year,” he said before addressing whether he could return to his 2019 playing level. “I’ve got to earn it. You can’t do that until you put the work in, until you go out each and every week and earn it.”
Gilmore has been one of the league's top cover cornerbacks since Buffalo drafted him with the No. 10 overall pick in 2012.
He flourished after joining New England in 2017 where he had 11 interceptions and broke up 52 passes in four seasons. Those stats include a league-high 20 passes defensed and six interceptions, tied for second in the league, during his award-winning season. Gilmore became the first defensive back selected as the league's defensive player of the year since Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu in 2010.
Cornerbacks switching teams in their 30s have made successful transitions over the past decade.
The list includes Darrelle Revis, who won a Super Bowl with New England after leaving the New York Jets and Richard Sherman, who helped San Francisco win the 2019 NFC championship before losing to Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
Even Rhodes played well in 2020, his first season with the Colts.
Gilmore's self-described aggressive style could help him join that list.
“It’s making plays on the ball, whether it’s punching the ball out or just being aggressive on receivers," he said. “That's my thing. That’s what I do, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
The Colts will find out exactly how and where Gilmore fits soon.
They opened the first phase of offseason workouts Monday, which are scheduled to run each week through early June. Workouts include a three-day rookie minicamp scheduled for mid-May and a three-day mandatory June camp for veterans and rookies to cap it.
Between now and then, general manager Chris Ballard will continue adding players through next week's draft, undrafted free agents and perhaps even more moves in veteran free agency.
But, for now, the Colts believe they've plugged one glaring hole with the eager Gilmore.
“We have a lot of great players on the defensive side of the ball and with my skillset, I think I can play anything they want me to play," he said. “I’m just looking forward to just getting better as an individual, working on my technique and playing the scheme the right way.”