Though the New England Patriots gave up only 17 points in a Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the play of the defense in critical moments emerged as a cause for concern.
One player who was unavailable Sunday and will remain sidelined for at least five more games is cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who's on the physically unable to perform list as he begins the final season of a five-year, $65 million contract he signed with New England in 2017.
Having Gilmore, who turns 31 Sunday, back on the field would change the dynamic for New England's entire defense, Albert Breer said on Early Edition Wednesday. But the contract situation for the pending unrestricted free agent has complicated matters; as Gilmore said during the offseason, "I just want what I'm worth."
"Do you want to win the negotiation, or do you want to have the player?" Breer posed to the Patriots' front office. "You spent all that money on the defense and you get into a contract fight with your best player, which I think was very solvable if you'd taken care of it early."
Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-Pro at corner, is making $7 million in base salary -- the 25th-highest rate at his position -- but counts roughly $16.3 million against the salary cap, the highest hit at cornerback in the NFL.
It's not as though any Dolphins receiver put up eye-popping numbers in Sunday's win -- DeVante Parker's four catches for 81 yards led the team -- but the presence of a player like Gilmore can have a trickle-down effect.
"Having Stephon Gilmore back there changes the dynamic back there for everyone in the secondary," Breer said. "Now all of a sudden, your No. 2 corner is your No. 1, your No. 3 corner is your No. 2. You've got to play your safeties different. It changes everything. It changes the math back there."