Patriots have already been hit hard by players opting out, with key starters passing on 2020 season

The New England Patriots knew in early March they’d be replacing Tom Brady. They handled that situation just fine.

What nobody could have guessed in early March was that a pandemic would cost the Patriots multiple starters and other key veterans as they opt out of the 2020 season.

When players were allowed the option of sitting out this season due to coronavirus concerns, the Patriots were the first team hit the hardest. And it’ll be much more difficult for them to fill the holes now that it’s late July.

Bill Belichick has a unique challenge ahead.

New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is one of the players to opt out of the 2020 season. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is one of the players to opt out of the 2020 season. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Patriots lose key starters on both sides of ball

The Patriots lost key starters on each side of the ball in a 24-hour period.

Late Tuesday night, news broke from the Boston Herald that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon opted out of the season. Cannon started 50 games he played at right tackle over the past four seasons, including 15 last season.

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Then the Patriots lost linebacker Dont’a Hightower, ESPN said. Hightower, whose baby was born July 16, opted out. The 30-year-old made his second Pro Bowl last season. His versatility is a key to the Patriots’ defense.

Safety Patrick Chung joined them late Tuesday morning. Chung opted out, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Chung has started 112 games for the Patriots through his career.

New England also had running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran opt out. Coupled with the typical offseason losses, that’s a lot to replace.

Patriots have lost a lot

The Patriots saw plenty of talented players leave in free agency. Brady went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and multiple starters on defense are gone, including linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

If the Patriots can keep their streak of AFC East titles going, it’ll be impressive. Cannon was 30th among all tackles with 600 snaps in PFF’s grades. Hightower has been a stalwart for years on the defense. Vitale had a lot of value because the Patriots use the fullback more than most. Bolden played 321 special team snaps last season, second on the team to special teams captain Matthew Slater.

This season will be unusual in many ways, and the Patriots didn’t expect to lose at least a handful of players before camp even started. New England isn’t going to be the last team to experience losses like that.

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