NFL awards: Stephon Gilmore becomes first CB since 2009 to win defensive player of the year

MIAMI — The New England Patriots don’t often spend big in free agency. They knew what they were doing with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore’s five-year, $65 million deal signed before the 2017 season has been a great investment. Gilmore has been fantastic with the Patriots after leaving the Buffalo Bills, and he had a remarkable 2019 season that led to him being named NFL defensive player of the year on Saturday night at the NFL Honors show.

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It’s very rare for cornerbacks to win the NFL’s top award for defensive players. The last time a cornerback won was 2009, when Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers took it. Woodson had been the only cornerback to win defensive player of the year since 1994, when Deion Sanders won it.

Gilmore is also the first Patriots player to win NFL defensive player of the year.

“It’s a great honor,” Gilmore said backstage. “It’s a blessing. It’s a lot of hard work.

“To be the first player in Patriots history to win defensive player of the year is a great honor.”

Gilmore tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and led the NFL with 20 passes defended. He was a key part of a Patriots defense that led the NFL in points and yards allowed. Gilmore was named first-team All-Pro for the second straight season.

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) had a fantastic season. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Here are all the NFL’s major awards which were announced at the annual NFL Honors show in Miami:

Most valuable player: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Jackson won NFL MVP in just his second season. He became the second unanimous MVP in league history. Read more about his historic season.

Comeback player of the year: Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill has had a remarkable turnaround. He was given up on by the Miami Dolphins, who took on a huge hit to the salary cap to trade him to Tennessee. He looked like a first-round bust.

Tannehill took over for struggling Marcus Mariota as starting quarterback early in the season and led the Titans to a playoff berth and the AFC championship game. Tannehill has dealt with some injuries in his career, though comeback player of the year usually goes to a player who dealt with a major injury the year before. Either way, Tannehill had a career revitalization with the Titans and at exactly the right time: He can become a free agent in March.

“It’s incredible,” Tannehill said backstage. “It’s an honor that you never want to initially be up for, but it’s an honor after going through the adversity I went through the past couple years. It feels good after a lot of hard work to get to this point.”

Defensive rookie of the year: San Francisco 49ers DE Nick Bosa

Bosa was the second pick of the 2019 draft, going to a 49ers team that needed help. Bosa helped plenty, as the 49ers will play in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

Bosa had nine sacks and was a consistent disruptor on the defensive line for an excellent 49ers defense. He was an easy pick for defensive rookie of the year. Bosa’s brother Joey is a previous winner of the award.

Offensive rookie of the year: Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

It was a good year for top picks in the draft. Right after Bosa, the second pick of the 2019 draft, won defensive rookie of the year, No. 1 overall pick Murray was announced as the offensive rookie of the year.

Murray had 3,722 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and also rushed for 544 yards and four touchdowns. Murray won a big award in 2018 as well, taking home the Heisman Trophy for Oklahoma. The Cardinals honed in early on Murray in the draft process and selected him No. 1 overall despite questions about his size. The Cardinals have to be pleased about their selection after Murray’s productive rookie season, and the direction the team is going after playing well late in the season.

“I think it’s a real confidence booster,” Murray said. “We started slow but by the end we were clicking on all cylinders. Whether we won the game or not there was improvement.”

Coach of the year: Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh

In a strong season for coaches, Harbaugh embracing a new-look offense with quarterback Lamar Jackson won him the award.

The run-first Ravens went 14-2 and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens’ season ended in a disappointing divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, but it was a fantastic overall season. Harbaugh’s brother Jim, now the coach at the University of Michigan, won NFL coach of the year with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

“The most challenging part was the doubt, and how we were going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We came out and said, ‘We’re going to do something different.’”

Harbaugh was humble when asked how much credit he should get for Jackson’s great season.

“None, none,” Harbaugh said backstage. “You know who deserves the credit for Lamar? Lamar.”

Offensive player of the year: New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas

Thomas beat a tough field that included Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Thomas did so with a dominant, record-setting season.

Thomas set the single-season receptions record with 149 catches. He also led the NFL with 1,725 receiving yards. Thomas was remarkably consistent, with 10 100-yard games this season. Thomas signed a five-year, $96.25 million deal before last season and he elevated his play.

“I’m very grateful to have received this award,” Thomas said. “it’s a blessing to be able to represent the organization at a high level. It wasn’t won just by me.”

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell

Campbell was given the NFL’s highest honor for charity work off the field. Campbell founded the CRC Foundation, which said is “committed to the enhancement of the community through the teaching of critical life skills to young people, transforming them into empowered and self-aware leaders of the future.”

“When I think about Walter Payton stood for, standing on this stage is incredible,” Campbell said as he received the award.

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