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Should the Patriots keep Stephon Gilmore? Their 2020 defensive numbers suggest they should.

Related: Stephon Gilmore on contract situation with Patriots: ‘I just want what I’m worth’

Las Vegas Raiders Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The New England Patriots are facing some major questions heading towards their 2021 training camp. Who will win the starting quarterback position between Cam Newton and Mac Jones? What will the numerous offseason acquisitions look like in full pads? Are any youngsters about to break out?

Another question concerns the status of star Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year decided to sit out New England’s mandatory minicamp in June in an apparent contract dispute; there is no indication whether or not he will report to training camp on time.

Gilmore originally joined the Patriots on a five-year, $65 million free agency contract in 2017, but through a series of subsequent restructures is entering the 2021 season on a maximum cash intake of only $7.9 million — 25th highest in the league. Heading into the final year of his contract he is now looking for an adjustment, likely in the form of an extension.

Of course, signing him to a new deal beyond 2021 is just one of the possible outcomes. Another is the Patriots simply trading the star cornerback if no solution can be found in the coming days or weeks.

Such a move would have a major trickle-down effect on the team, from the Patriots being forced to replace their most experienced cornerback to various salary cap ramifications. One aspect that cannot be ignored, however, is how it will impact the New England defense as a whole. And as a look at the following numbers show, the 2021 Patriots should be better off with Gilmore in the fold (via CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar):

Gilmore missed five of the Patriots’ games last season; he had to sit out three contests in early November due to a knee injury and later also missed the final two games on injured reserve after partially tearing his quad. When he was on the field, the Patriots defense put up significantly better coverage numbers.

While the circumstances have to be considered in this evaluation — the Patriots defense as a whole was wildly inconsistent at times in 2020, especially up front — it cannot be denied that Gilmore a) is still a tremendous player when healthy, and b) allows New England to run its defense in a much more aggressive fashion. J.C. Jackson is an able starting-caliber cornerback himself, but the composition of the group itself is a much more favorable one with Gilmore and Jackson in the lineup.

Obviously, though, past performance will only play a comparatively small role in New England’s decision making process. With Gilmore turning 31 in September, his projection for the future will determine how much the team would be willing to invest in him.

A healthy Gilmore is still an elite cornerback, but that alone will not make Bill Belichick and company give him a multi-year extension. That is true even if the 2020 numbers suggest that New England should keep its CB1 in the fold this year and beyond.