Mark Brown / Contributor

As mandatory minicamp begins for the New England Patriots, it does so absent a cornerstone player in defensive back Stephon Gilmore. The two-time All-Pro is not in attendance on Monday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, and he's not expected to report to three-day minicamp at all -- opening him up to $93,000 in team fines. It's easy to point at his rehabilitation from a partially torn quad as one reason, but it's not illogical to also consider the ongoing contract rift between Gilmore and the club. 

The 30-year-old wants a new contract but hasn't been rewarded one yet, and trade speculation continues to swirl. In 2020, the Patriots gave Gilmore a pay boost of $5 million, but that seems more of a Band-Aid than surgical repair of a very noticeable fracture. 

As last season progressed, it grew clearer that Gilmore's days in New England may be numbered. There were reports early in the year that the Patriots explored trading the then-defending Defensive Player of the Year prior to restructuring his current contract, and it was then reported by CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora that "most GMs have considered it a foregone conclusion that the Patriots would trade" their No. 1 corner. 

Time will tell if they do.

His injury (and subsequent recovery from it) complicates any potential trade scenario at the moment, because although he's expected to be a full go for the 2021 season, it's uncertain if he'd pass a physical any time soon to facilitate a trade out of New England. An acquiring team would likely also have to grant him the new deal he's seeking, or find themselves trading for a dominant player who would be just as disgruntled with them as the is with his current club -- that hasn't given him a new deal yet.

As things stand, he is entering the final year of his contract, which will pay him just $7 million in base salary for 2021. Gilmore will certainly want to have that number increased to a more respectable level and, if Gilmore is traded, the Patriots would save $7.75 million in cap space (net) after eating $8.53 million in dead money as a post-June 1 move.

Gilmore has spent the last four seasons in Foxborough and was a key piece to the Patriots win in Super Bowl LIII. In 11 games played in 2020, Gilmore totaled 37 tackles, three passes defended and one interception. He's just one year removed from a career-best six interceptions and 20 pass breakups, making him easily one of the best cornerbacks in all of football.

And the Patriots can only wait to see if he'll show up for training camp in July.