Even without Tom Brady, the Patriots have found a way to lead the league.
Five players have opted out of playing in 2020 versus four for the rest of the NFL so far.
One could call it an anti-CoronaVirus “outbreak” as Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Danny Vitale, Brandon Bolden and Najee Toran have all opted out, and the movement could spread. [UPDATE: Patrick Chung is also opting out, which makes six.]
Hypothetically, if this were during the regular season and these five tested positive all at once, it would considered a huge outbreak where serious considerations for quarantine for the offensive line and running back groups. A full outbreak with yet undetected spread would make cancellation or postponement, a possibility depending on the circumstances.
Certainly it would cancel the day’s practice and increase testing.
Hightower and his fiancee just had a baby July 16th and “are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family.”
Cannon beat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011 — although he has not stated that as his reason yet.
The other three have not expressed their reasoning for opting out and they don’t have to. Players have the right to do so without giving a reason unless they choose the “high risk opt out” which gives a $350k stipend, like Cannon. For others that are not high risk, the stipend is $150K. All of their contracts roll.
The hope is always to contain outbreaks and hopefully for Patriots fans the spread of opt outs will not continue. It is unknown whether the players have communicated with each other before the decisions or if this is just chance.
With the opt outs and transition from last season, Bill Belichick now has to replace Brady, the top three linebackers (Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy), a key offensive tackle, two other key defenders (Danny Shelton, Duron Harmon) and has no fullbacks on the roster (Vitale opts out after James Develin retired due to neck).
When Chiefs guard Luarent Duvernay-Tardif opted out quickly, I did not believe it would be the start of a big NFL trend. I was clearly wrong (at least about the Patriots), but so far there are only 3 others across the league.
Players have another week to opt out. If they do, they cannot change their mind to return in 2020. If a player doesn’t opt out by the deadline, he loses that right.
Is this just about concern over the virus, is this a lack of confidence post Brady, is this “Tank for Trevor”? In the end, it doesn’t matter.
The Patriots will have to adjust and move on.