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New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore hints at return after 3-game absence

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL's reigning defensive player of the year, hinted that he will be returning from a three-game absence Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Gilmore, who a source said was involved in a collision in practice on Oct. 29, has been listed with a knee injury ever since, and he's officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Houston.

The timing of the injury, with the trade deadline just a few days later, had sparked speculation that perhaps there was more to Gilmore's absence than just a physical ailment.

In his first remarks to reporters in about a month, Gilmore pushed back on that.

"I wasn't physically ready to play these last couple of weeks. Things happen. You have to adjust to it," Gilmore said. "Nothing would keep me off the field from playing with my teammates. That is one thing that stuck with me."

He added later: "You really appreciate being out there with your teammates, so that's one thing I thought about these last couple weeks. I'm happy that I'm back healthy and looking forward to this week."

Gilmore's contract status had added another layer to the speculation regarding his absence.

In the fourth year of a five-year deal he had signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2017, Gilmore had been scheduled to earn a base salary of $10.5 million this season, which was under market based on his performance. Top cornerbacks around the NFL are now paid in the range of $17 million per season.

In September, the Patriots had given Gilmore a $5 million advance to make up a significant chunk of the difference. But in doing so, it lowered Gilmore's base salary to $7 million for 2021, which will likely lead the sides back to the negotiating table next year.

Because of that, some around the NFL speculated that the Patriots might consider trading Gilmore, although coach Bill Belichick had previously said he was unaware that the club had entertained offers for him.

Gilmore was asked Friday how he felt hearing his name as part of the NFL rumor mill and if he envisions being with the Patriots long term.

"That's a question you have to ask the organization," he said. "The only thing I can do every day is just come to work and prepare and try to give it my best each and every week. Some stuff you can't control in life, you just have to go out there and enjoy yourself.

"We have great coaches here. We have great players. We have young players here that are getting better and better. I'm just enjoying the moment. I love being here, and I love the culture. So I'm happy that I'm a Patriot."

As for putting his home up for sale in the area, Gilmore said it was so he could move to the city, which is his preference.

Third-year player J.C. Jackson has been starting in Gilmore's place, and he leads the NFL with six interceptions. Veteran Jason McCourty has been the starter at the other corner spot.

Belichick, whose team has a chance to improve to 5-5 with a win on Sunday in Houston, praised Gilmore on Friday for helping behind the scenes as he worked his way back to full health.

"Steph was great on that," Belichick said. "He's well respected and deservedly so because of his effort, his consistency and his performance and preparation."