The New England Patriots are in the midst of their mandatory minicamp, but their top cornerback is MIA.
Just 17 months removed from a Defensive Player of the Year campaign, four-time Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore is presumably making a statement regarding his contract, which is set to expire once he's paid a base salary of $7 million in 2021, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.
There's still a good chance Bill Belichick calls Gilmore's bluff, especially since it's extremely prohibitive for veterans to hold out under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. There's also a chance New England decides to sweeten the pot to keep Gilmore happy, and the team might prefer to hold on and risk turmoil at the current rate because we know how much they love collecting compensatory draft picks.
That said, New England isn't afraid to ditch emotions and cut bait, and Gilmore is on the wrong side of 30, so it's entirely possible they'll receive and accept an offer they can't refuse. With Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills and third-year second-round pick Joejuan Williams on the cornerback depth chart, it can't be ruled out.
Where might that offer come from? Some potential suitors...
Sorry, Jalen, but if Gilmore winds up in L.A., there's probably a better chance he lands with the Chargers than the Rams.
According to Spotrac, only five teams in the NFL have more salary-cap space than the Bolts, who moved on from 31-year-old veteran Casey Hayward Jr. earlier this offseason and don't know what they'll get from soon-to-be 32-year-old Chris Harris Jr.
Harris missed nearly half the 2020 season due to injury, and it's hard to get excited about guys like Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell as they wait on rookie second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr.
The Chargers are looking to contend with more support for reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert in the quarterback's sophomore season, and a move for Gilmore could help move them into playoff conversations.
That said, the Patriots could be competing with Los Angeles for that playoff spot, and they'd almost certainly prefer to deal Gilmore outside of the AFC.
In fact, every other team on this list hails from the NFC, starting with a Cardinals squad that moved on from corners Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Peterson in the offseason.
The Cards are clearly all-in right now with J.J. Watt joining Chandler Jones up front, and with two first-round picks at linebacker and star Budda Baker at safety, the weakest spot on the team is cornerback. They did bring in veterans Malcolm Butler and Darqueze Dennard to join Byron Murphy and Robert Alford, but Gilmore would immediately become the top cover man on that defense.
They rank above the league median in cap space with more than $10 million to spend, and like the Chargers, they have each of their first three picks in next year's draft to use as ammunition in trade talks.
It's still likely that Arizona was done splashing when it paid a premium for Watt, but pursuing Gilmore makes quite a lot of sense for a team gunning for a breakout competitive season.
They do have more than $16 million in cap space, but their next two first-round picks and next year's third-rounder all belong to the Miami Dolphins as a result of the trade that positioned them to select Trey Lance in April. The Patriots will probably want that 2022 second-rounder or tantamount capital, which won't be easy.
But with Richard Sherman still unsigned and Ahkello Witherspoon now in Seattle, they might figure Gilmore could provide a difference-making upgrade in a key spot. Gilmore would likely also be less expensive than Sherman in the short term, and he probably has more tread on his tires than the 33-year-old.
In other words, I'm telling you there's a chance.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have shown time and again they're willing to mortgage the long-term future for a better short-term chance, so this can't be ruled out after the secondary lost key pieces Troy Hill and John Johnson III in free agency.
Ramsey is a star, and Darious Williams has also become strong on the outside, but both Ramsey and Gilmore have spent some time in the slot, so they could work together to cover for Hill's departure. It's also possible Williams would be included in a trade package for Gilmore, which would make the Patriots younger in the secondary without costing them a starter.
They don't have any first-round picks on the horizon, but they do have each of their Day 2 selections in 2022 and 2023 to offer. And while money is tight, they could probably raise just enough to afford Gilmore.
If they believe now is the time to make one more run with Ramsey, Aaron Donald and incoming quarterback Matthew Stafford, a deal with New England is within the realm of possibility.
Earlier this offseason, the Bears were forced to part with expensive veteran corner Kyle Fuller and replace him with the older and cheaper Desmond Trufant. Gilmore doesn't come cheap, but he's less expensive than Fuller was and a much more accomplished player than either Fuller or Trufant.
Might an increasingly desperate Chicago team gamble on Gilmore by offering New England a Day 2 pick and extending the two-time first-team All-Pro's contract by a year or two? That could buy them more flexibility, which would be huge considering they possess only $6.2 million in cap space right now, and it would likely put a smile on Gilmore's face as he joins a talented defense led by superstar Khalil Mack.
This remains unlikely because the Bears are already without first- and fourth-round picks next year, but a Day 2 selection could get the job done, and it looks like general manager Ryan Pace is willing to make big sacrifices to win at this point.
The Cowboys are also desperate to make a run with Dak Prescott returning to a star-studded offense in 2021, and they have to know that poorly-ranked defense remains a tremendous liability after they lost top corner Chidobe Awuzie along with key cogs Xavier Woods and Aldon Smith in the offseason.
It marked the second consecutive year the Cowboys saw a starting corner escape in free agency, and a lack of cap space was of course a factor. That remains the case and explains why they aren't a favorite to land Gilmore, but it's doable if they get creative like Chicago, and they do at least possess each of their first six draft picks in 2022.
Dallas has been linked to Sherman, so there's little doubt Jerry Jones and Co. should be connected to Gilmore in the event that New England puts him on the block.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.