Eight Patriots players opted out for the 2020 NFL season, and their current status on New England’s roster is reminiscent of characters dropping like flies in a “Final Destination” movie.
Patrick Chung retired. Marcus Cannon was traded to the Houston Texans. Marqise Lee, Dan Vitale and Najee Toran were cut. Vitale intends to retire. Only linebacker Dont’a Hightower, running back Brandon Bolden and tight end Matt LaCosse remain on the Patriots, and it’s only June.
Hightower doesn’t intend on going anywhere.
“I wouldn’t be out here doing this for free,” Hightower said in reaction to some rumors that percolated on social media that he would retire.
Hightower skipped most of the Patriots’ offseason workout program but returned last week for two organized team activities sessions and minicamp.
“I don?t know what y’all want for me to say,” Hightower said. “I’m here. I’m working. I’m in minicamp. I’m not here to write a story for you. I’m here to work. I’m here. I don’t know what else y’all want me to say. If I wasn?t here, then I think that would be something to talk about. But I’m here. Hopefully that knocks all those questions out.”
Hightower wasn’t planning ahead when he elected to opt-out for the 2020 season. While the Patriots linebacker was away, he got married and had a baby boy.
“Honestly, my thought was that the opt-out was for (2020) and that was (2020),” Hightower said. “All them rumors about retirement that y’all threw — y’all had me thinking somebody was trying to kick me out. But I did what I did for the betterment of what I thought was better for my family. And obviously I feel a little bit different in the situation that I’m in now. If I had to go back and do it, I would absolutely do it again. It was literally just for the season. I wasn’t planning one, two steps ahead or anything like that.
Hightower did stay in shape while he was out of football, because he knew if he got too complacent, it would be more difficult to return.
“I was watching film and trying to keep up with the guys throughout the season,” Hightower said. “I was aware of being away too long, but when the opt-out came, that was never my intentions. But I would be naive to think that if I didn’t do anything that I would enjoy my time at home and fall too far out of shape and then whenever it comes time to actually get out and run, I (would have been) looking around like, ‘Nah. I think I’m just going to eat these donuts and drink these beers and stuff.'”
Hightower got back into playing shape by working out with his cousin, trying to stay pliable and riding a Peloton bike. He was a standout in Tuesday’s minicamp session when he made an acrobatic play, intercepting rookie quarterback Mac Jones.