Dont’a Hightower is prioritizing family over football.
The New England Patriots linebacker confirmed Tuesday he is opting out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower told NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Hightower announced Sunday during an episode of “Double Coverage With the McCourty Twins” that his fiancée had given birth to the couple’s first child on July 16 — a baby boy.
“I don’t have any words to describe it,” Hightower said on the podcast. “Asking what to look forward to and expect, it was that and then some.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report Hightower’s decision. The number of Patriots players who have chosen to opt out sat at five as of 9 a.m. ET Tuesday, with running back Brandon Bolden, tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran joining Hightower.
With Hightower, a Pro Bowler last season, now unavailable, the Patriots will be without four of their top five linebackers from 2019. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts all signed elsewhere in free agency.
Returning inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and edge rushers Chase Winovich and John Simon will be joined by veteran newcomer Brandon Copeland; 2020 draft picks Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Cassh Maluia; undrafted rookie De’Jon Harris and 2019 practice squadder Terez Hall. Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun also re-signed this offseason, and the oft-injured Derek Rivers remains under contract.
The Patriots could look to bolster that group with a free agent signing, as they now have four open roster spots and roughly $24 million in salary cap space, according to cap expert Miguel Benzan.
After accounting for
opt-outs of Hightower, Bolden, Cannon, Najee Toran and Danny Vitale,
5 guaranteed salaries added to the Patriots dead money
my new Patriots salary cap space number is $24,195,302. The Patriots now have 76 players on their 2020 roster
— Cap Space=$24,195,302 (@patscap) July 28, 2020