FOXBORO -- Stephon Gilmore isn't taking part in mandatory minicamp for the Patriots this week, but is it more a matter of when not if he eventually makes his way back into the Patriots locker room?
It sounded that way when Devin McCourty was asked about Gilmore's absence on Tuesday.
"Gilly is still under contract so when he comes back in, he does what he does," McCourty said. "And we all know that he's a guy, I think, you know... I've been talking to him. He's still a part of this team."
Gilmore has not taken part in any of the team's offseason program and Bill Belichick said on Tuesday morning that he didn't expect Gilmore to be present for any of the mandatory minicamp workouts this week.
Gilmore is scheduled to play for a base salary of $7 million in 2021 after last offseason having millions moved from this year's salary to last year's as an advance to improve his pay. Gilmore won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award back in 2019.
One of the most man-to-man heavy defenses in the last several seasons, the Patriots rely on having strong one-on-one coverage in the secondary. Their clear-cut best corner, often asked to take away an opponent's top option in the passing game, has been Gilmore.
In some ways, Gilmore allows Belichick to call the coverages the coach seems to prefer. That may change if Gilmore is not in the mix moving forward, but there is time for Gilmore and the Patriots to resolve the contractual issue at hand before the start of the 2021 season. And McCourty didn't seem all that concerned about Gilmore getting back to work with his teammates at some point in the near future.
"When he comes in, I don't think we have to change much," McCourty said. "Like, he fits in where he fits in, and it doesn't take much to see where he fits in. I don't think you have to like reinvent the wheel. Our defense kinda is what it is year in, year out. We add new things. We do some things a little different depending on personnel, who's here.
"But you know what Gilly can do and what he brings to the table, it's still a huge part of the defense. When he gets back, that'll be what it is and all of that will work itself out, but (he's) still fully part of this team. A lot of guys have talked to him this offseason and keep in contact with him... Obviously it's my 12th year in the league, you see things like this happen. It kind of works itself (out) on its own and kind of let the player worry about that."
The Patriots have added several impact players to their defense this offseason after signing Matt Judon to play on the edge, Kyle Van Noy to move around the front-seven and adding Dont'a Hightower back into the equation after he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns. Belichick also drafted defensive tackle Christian Barmore and edge defender Ronnie Perkins with two of his first four draft picks.
With Gilmore, the Patriots have a path to being one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. Since 2011, the Patriots have been a top-10 scoring defense every year.
"I think as far as us as teammates and our defense with [Gilmore] in it, you know I'm excited for that just as much as anything," McCourty said. "(Getting) a guy that obviously [his] season got cut short last year, and he's gonna be working hard to get back in and get to that level of play that he's been at the last couple of years.
"I'm excited to see him do that. Obviously one of the hardest working guys I've been around. The quiet assassin is doing what he needs to do to be back out there playing good football."