FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots were without one of their top defensive players when they opened their mandatory minicamp Monday morning, as Stephon Gilmore was absent.
There was a familiar face back on the field, however, as starting quarterback Cam Newton was a full participant 10 days after he suffered a minor hand injury in an OTA practice.
A perennial Pro Bowl cornerback and the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore is the final year of the five-year, $65 million contract he signed in 2017 and is scheduled to make a base salary of $7 million in 2021. The Patriots paid Gilmore $4.5 million from this year’s original salary during last year’s training camp to bring his compensation more in line with the league’s other top corners.
According to overthecap.com, Gilmore’s cap hit for this season is $16.25 million, highest on the team.
It’s possible the club and player could look to negotiate their current agreement or a new deal. New England has approximately $16 million in salary-cap space.
It’s unknown whether Gilmore will be out for the next two minicamp practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
Coach Bill Belichick said “travel arrangements” had affected some players over the weekend, though he declined to name anyone specifically or say whether any absences would be excused.
If Gilmore, who didn’t participate in any of New England’s optional offseason workouts, misses all week with unexcused absences, he could be fined up to $93,085.
Safety Adrian Phillips was asked if he’s had contact with Gilmore.
“Yeah, I mean, pretty private. I support my brother. I wish he was here, but I support him all the same,” Phillips said. “What he has going, whenever he gets back, he’ll let you know how that went. But that’s my guy. We’re brothers. We all keep in contact with each other.”
New England has a deep secondary, particularly at corner, though losing Gilmore to a holdout or trade would have a trickle-down effect.
Gilmore, 30, has effectively marked opponents’ top receivers almost from the moment he landed in New England. He has the quickness, fluidity, strength, long arms, and closing burst to cover receivers and tight ends of all shapes and sizes.
Without Gilmore, J.C. Jackson would be thrust into the top cornerback spot, while the other boundary role would be a battle among Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams, Michael Jackson, Dee Virgin, and D’Angelo Ross.
Mills, Bryant, and Williams also have safety experience.
Jonathan Jones, among the top slot/nickel corners in the league, likely would stay put.
Newton displayed his normal energy and didn’t show any ill effects from the injury. He put together a nice day, completing 12 of 20 passes (including a drop) in a steady and often heavy rain that turned the pigskin heavy and slick and made passing and catching very difficult.
Newton showed some nice zip during early individual drills and aired it out a few times during team drills. Though he missed on a few of the deep throws, Newton displayed perhaps his best arm strength and smoothest throwing motion of the spring.
His most impressive stretch came during a late period of seven-on-sevens when he completed 6 of 6 passes, including back-to-back deep sideline routes to Hunter Henry and N’Keal Harry.
Brian Hoyer, the most veteran quarterback on New England’s roster, said he has noticed a difference in Newton’s play as he gets more and more comfortable in an offense he needed to absorb quickly last season without the benefit of an offseason program.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Hoyer. “I mean, I think you see when you’re not hearing something for the first time and clicks a little bit faster you see that, just working with the guys. And like I said, to be back and be a part of that group has been a lot of fun.’'