Stephon Gilmore's start to the 2021 season will be significantly delayed.
New England is keeping the All-Pro corner on the physically unable to perform list to begin the regular season, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, meaning Gilmore won't be eligible to return to game action until Week 7. Gilmore has been on PUP since the beginning of Patriots camp due to a quad injury that ended his 2020 season in Week 15.
Gilmore is likely to be healthy around Week 3, per Rapoport, making the decision to keep Gilmore on PUP interesting. It's probable the Week 3 timeframe is a target, not a full expectation for Gilmore to return, leaving the Patriots with a full month of buffer in the even the corner needs more time to get completely healthy.
The veteran corner has an especially vested interest in his own health when it comes to projecting his future earning power, as he's in the last year of his five-year contract with the Patriots and is headed toward his 31st birthday next month. He's made it clear he's unhappy with his existing contract, desiring either a new short-term deal that will pay him more, or an extension that will provide him with some security.
Gilmore will only be able to maximize his earnings if he's healthy when the time comes to strike a new deal, so it makes sense for him to take as much time as necessary to return. Putting Gilmore on PUP also buys the Patriots a third of a season's worth of time to decide if he's in their future plans.
New England has another high-quality corner in J.C. Jackson, who will man the No. 1 role for the Patriots in Gilmore's absence. Beyond Jackson are Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams and new additions Jalen Mills (signed in the offseason) and Shaun Wade. New England appeared to be anticipating this outcome for Gilmore when it struck a deal for Wade last week, acquiring the former Ohio State corner for a couple of late-round picks in a deal with Baltimore.
The Patriots don't boast a premier pair of corners without Gilmore, but there are worse situations elsewhere. New England will hope to get the most out of Jackson and Co. while navigating the first six games of the 2021 season without its proven veteran.