No team was hit harder by COVID-19 opt-outs in 2020 than the New England Patriots. They can expect those players to be back in the fold in 2021.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Friday the Patriots’ “key opt-outs” are “planning to be back for 2021,” listing linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.
Rapoport’s report echoes what veteran Patriots safety Devin McCourty revealed earlier this month.
“From my understanding, they’ll all be back,” McCourty said on Tom E. Curran’s “Patriots Talk” podcast. “(Brandon) Bolden, High, Chung. I can’t wait. Those are my guys — Cannon. I just can’t wait to be back around those guys. Even outside of football, just seeing them every day, seeing their nice faces.”
Tight end Matt LaCosse, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran rounded out the Patriots’ NFL-high eight opt-outs.
Not every returning player will be guaranteed a roster spot this season. Cannon, for instance, saw his play decline in 2019 and is set to carry a pricey $9.6 million salary cap hit this season, $7 million of which New England can erase by releasing him.
Hightower — an integral defender who was sorely missed in 2020 — will be a roster lock if healthy, but the Patriots could attempt to lower his $12.4 million cap hit.