The New England Patriots might be entering a brief period of summer vacation, but they continue to be the subject of some of the NFL’s leading news and notes. From tight ends heading to school, to defensive backs in the spotlight, here are some midweek highlights, courtesy of the Patriot Maven notebook:
Is Gilly’s Return a Lock?
Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore created some waves in New England last week when he held out of mandatory minicamp reportedly as a result of an issue with his contract.
The 30-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year (2019) is entering the last year of a five-year, $65 million contract, which brought his services to New England in 2017. After several restructures throughout that time, Gilmore undoubtedly is looking to increase the maximum earnings of said deal (which could total up to $7.9 million) to better align with the salaries for players of his caliber.
While Gilmore was nowhere to be spotted in Foxboro during the three-day minicamp period, NFL Network’s MIke Giardi reported that the Pats’ star defensive back has recently been in the New England area. While it appears that his visit is not related to Gilmore’s medical condition, speculation has run rampant that he may be in town to discuss his contract.
While the reason for Gilmore’s visit remains unknown, his mere presence in New England is not enough to confirm or deny the possibility that he is here to negotiate. But there might presently be greater optimism that the two sides might reach a deal than last week at this time.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss, reported the following over the weekend: “While some holdouts can become acrimonious, my sense of Gilmore's mindset is different. He seems to enjoy being a Patriot, is open to sticking around, and this was his least-expensive-but-most-decisive way of sparking more productive contract talks with the team so he can feel better about being part of New England’s present and future.”
It may be a bit early to project an agreement between Gilmore and the Patriots. However, any movement on the situation is noteworthy.
Back to School
Patriots tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry both will participate in "Tight End University" this week. The three-day event will be a workout summit, organized by George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen that will take place near Nashville, Tennessee from Wednesday Friday.
New England has high expectations for this duo of free agent acquisitions. Henry is expected to play the traditional “Y” role, accentuating his route-running skills, as well as his ability to box out. He has also proven himself a strong blocker and reliable pass catcher. Smith, an effective blocker in his own right, is a prototypical "move" tight end who will be an effective target in the red zone. After a 2020 season when production from the position was nearly nonexistent, the Pats are poised for a resurgence with both Henry and Smith in the fold.
The pair of new Patriots will be joined at "Tight End University," by Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson, Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Robert Tonyan, Noah Fant, Zach Ertz, Cole Kmet, Eric Ebron and David Njoku.
Ebner Bows Out of the Olympics
Former Patriots safety and core special teamer Nate Ebner once again is looking to suit up in an NFL uniform. However, he will not be an Olympian this summer.
After suffering an injury in his first season with the New York Giants in 2020, Ebner had hoped to compete in this year’s Olympics in Tokyo, Japan as a member of the U.S. rugby team. Ebner had been a member of the 2016 team. However, as he continues to rehab from offseason surgery, it became evident that Ebner would not be able to do the same this summer.
Ebner issued the following statement via social media: “It pains me to announce my withdrawal from competing for a spot at the Tokyo Olympics. After the 2020 NFL season, I had an injury that required offseason surgery. While my recovery is on track for the next football season, unfortunately the timetables did not align with trials for the Games. Thank you to USA Rugby for welcoming me back into the squad like family. And thank you to the players working so hard to make the Olympic team and help the United States bring home a medal. I’d also like to thank the New York Giants for their support as I chase another dream. I look forward to the 2021 NFL season and will continue to work hard every day to be ready.”
Though Ebner is a free agent, Giants head coach Joe Judge has indicated that the team was interested in bringing Ebner back once his rugby commitments were over. Ebner was a special teams captain for the Giants, playing in all 16 games. Ebner was a stalwart for New England’s special teams from 2012 through 2019, earning three Super Bowl championships with the team, as well as second-team All-Pro honors in 2016.
Jones a Pro Bowler?
While the Patriots roster will feature some new and exciting stars in 2021, one of the more familiar faces in New England’s defensive backfield might be poised for a big year. When identifying which players might earn their first Pro Bowl nod in the 2021 season, Sports Illustrated’s Connor Orr mentioned Patriots slot corner Jonathan Jones. While Orr’s argument is somewhat predicated on the Pats parting ways with star corner Stephon Gilmore, he praised Jones’ ability to break up a good number of passes and take on the role of being an ‘"incredibly willing tackler."
Entering his sixth season in New England, Jones continues to be considered among the top slot corners in the NFL. As such, it is likely that he will continue to be a fixture in New England’s nickel and dime packages. Should he continue the trend of seeing the field for more than half of the Patriots’ defensive snaps, Jones might just be in line for a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, regardless of Gilmore’s status.