Four players who were expected to be key cogs on the 2020 New England Patriots have reportedly opted out of the NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
News first leaked out Monday that newly-signed fullback Dan Vitale had exercised his opt-out clause. With the departure of Tom Brady this offseason, Vitale, 26, was expected to be a critical part of a run-heavy offense. His decision was likely influenced by the fact that he has a newborn baby.
On Monday night, it was learned that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon would also be opting out. The 32-year-old would have been entering his 10th season in the league and was seen as a leader on the offensive line.
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And now, ESPN reports that star linebacker Dont'a Hightower, the leader of a relatively inexperienced linebacking corps, won't be playing either. Hightower, 30, is a two-time Pro Bowler and also has a new baby.
Later Tuesday morning, ESPN's Mike Reiss reported that safety Patrick Chung has also decided not to play.
Schefter said running back Brandon Bolden is also sitting out, and offensive lineman Najee Toran had opted out on Monday.
Patriots players are expected to report to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday for COVID-19 testing ahead of the start of training camp. Quarterbacks and rookies arrived Monday.
The team's first practice in full pads is scheduled for Saturday. No fans will be allowed.
The Patriots are scheduled to kick off the season at home on Sept. 13 against the Miami Dolphins.