By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots made a stunning move on Wednesday morning, trading veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Though there are concerns about the 31-year-old’s health after he underwent offseason surgery for a quadriceps injury he suffered late last season, the move boiled down to one thing.

Money. Straight cap space, homie.

Gilmore was set to make $7 million this season — the final year of the five-year, $65 million contract he signed with New England in 2017 — after the Patriots turned $5 million from his 2021 salary into a bonus for the 2020 season. Either way, his price tag for 2021 is a massive discount for a player like Gilmore, a four-time Pro Bowler who is just two seasons removed from being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore obviously wanted to be paid more for his services in 2021. He probably wanted a whole new deal with a few more years of job security. He sat out offseason workouts and OTAs. After Gilmore started the season on PUP, the Patriots were not interested in giving him a raise or more years this season, or not interested in giving him as big of a raise or as many years that Gilmore sought. And now their marriage is over, with the Panthers paying a small price to acquire the highly talented Gilmore.

Bill Belichick obviously feels confident that his secondary, now led by J.C. Jackson, offseason signee Jalen Mills and slot corner Jonathan Jones, is good enough. Or at least good enough for this 1-3 team that has a lot of work to do over the next three months to get back into the playoff conversation.

Pass defense has not been New England’s issue thus far this season, though having Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson throw four passes to them in Week 2 somewhat inflates their numbers. But they’re at the top of the NFL in passing yards allowed and completion percentage, and the group is fresh off of making Tom Brady look human in a Week 4 loss. So there is reason to believe that the secondary is actually pretty good.

Again, this all comes back to money. Following Belichick’s offseason spending spree, the Patriots only had roughly $54,000 under the cap to play with the rest of the season. In subtracting Gilmore’s base salary, they now have a lot more wiggle room to improve the roster in the areas they see fit. According to Patriots salary cap guru Miguel Benzan, moving on from Gilmore gives New England just over $8.6 million in cap space.

Hopefully that cap space is put to good use. Jamie Collins is reportedly coming back (again) to add depth at linebacker. Mac Jones is being pummeled on a weekly basis and could use some help on the offensive line and at receiver. Addressing both would be ideal, and shedding Gilmore ups the potential for additions in some important areas.

It was a shocking move when news broke early Wednesday morning, but as always, money talks with the Patriots. Now we’ll wait to see if that newfound cap space is put to good use.