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Patriots Minicamp: Three Days, Three Burning Questions

The New England Patriots wrap up their offseason program this week

After a one-year hiatus, minicamps are back throughout the NFL.

The New England Patriots are set to open their Monday, commencing the first mandatory portion of their team activities in preparation for the 2021 season. The Pats have several new faces on their roster, as well as a few familiar ones making their return to the Foxboro fold. As such, there are several questions for which Patriots fans are clamoring for answers.

While it might be far from a complete list, here is a look at three key questions heading the next three days in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

1) Will Gilmore be Here and ‘Happy'?

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to hold a place among the best defensive backs in the NFL. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year may have taken a statistical dip in productivity in 2020, but he still performed at an elite level. Gilmore is also entering the final year of his five-year, $65 million contract, which he signed in 2017. This season, he is slated to earn a base salary of $7 million,

If that seems like a low number for a player of Gilmore’s prowess, it's because it is.

Few, if any, expect Gilmore to play the upcoming season at that salary. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the 30-year-old defensive back did not show up for voluntary offseason workouts or OTAs.

Might Gilmore continue his absence from Foxboro this week at mandatory minicamp?

One might be inclined to say that financial reasons may prevent him from doing so. As reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Gilmore will be subject to fines that could total $93,085 should he fail to report — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.

Of course, Gilmore may be inclined to see that as an investment toward a greater financial windfall. A contract extension would make sense if the two sides can agree on his worth to the Patriots going forward. The question is: Does Gilmore want to be paid at the top of the market for cornerbacks ($20 million APY, currently being earned by Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams) or at the top of the market for 30-year-old cornerbacks ($16,683,333, currently being earned by Darius Slay of the Philadelphia Eagles)?

Gilmore’s attendance, or absence, from the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium this week might passively provide some insight on the state of negotiations between the Patriots and their top defensive player.

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2) Will Sony Michel’s Role Change?

Since his selection in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, running back Sony Michel has been the Patriots' primary early-down, short-yardage option when running the football.

After a record-setting postseason in his rookie campaign, one that helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Michel has seen his production steadily decline. Having missed significant time over the past two seasons due to injury, the 26-year-old has yet to find consistent rhythm in New England’s offense.

With the emergence of Damien Harris and the addition of Rhamondre Stevenson via the 2021 draft, Michel may see a change in his deployment on the field for the upcoming season. After all, the Pats already have declined Michel’s fifth-year contract option, making him a free agent at the conclusion of the season.

Mandatory minicamp is far too early to determine a role for most players, but if Harris and Stevenson see a majority of the reps at running back, it might be an indication that Michel may transition to more of a situational runner in 2021.

3) Who Will Emerge as the Third Option in the Two-Tight End Packages?

Multiple-tight-end sets have almost been an essential element of the Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick. However, the Pats rarely, if ever, ran such packages in 2020. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, the Patriots ran 3 percent of their offensive plays with two or more tight ends on the field, the lowest percentage in the NFL.

The 2021 season promises to be much different in that regard after New England added two of the most coveted tight ends on the free agent market in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry is most productive when playing 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. Pairing him alongside a prototypical "move" tight end like Smith will allow the Patriots to run 12-man personnel, featuring two equally potent tight end options. Smith is so effective as a red zone weapon and demonstrates the speed and savvy to be a factor out of the backfield as well.

In addition to Smith and Henry, the Pats will be keeping a sharp eye on 2020 draft choices Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, as well as veteran Matt LaCosse.

Of the aforementioned trio, Asiasi is thought to have the most upside. Keene could see some reps, lining up as an H-back or even fullback, roles that he sometimes played at Virginia Tech.

While we will likely have to wait until training camp to gain true insight on the Pats’ plans at tight end for 2021, minicamp reps might provide some clues on who might be in and who might be the odd man out.