2020 Training Camp

Bedard: Covid-19 opt-outs by Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon & others throw Patriots a curveball (updated)

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(Getty Images)

Players haven't entered the facility yet as a team and the Patriots are already having to shuffle their lineups.

According to reports, starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, starting fullback Dan Vitale and backups at center (Najee Toran) and running back (Brandon Boldin) have decided to opt out of this season due to Covid-19 concerns. Hightower was reported by ESPN. Cannon's decision was reported by Jim Murray of 98.5 The SportsHub and Karen Guregian of the Herald, and Toran was reported by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe. Leigh Steinberg, Vitale's agent, confirmed his client's decision to USA Today. WEEI reported Boldin.

UPDATE: Patrick Chung has told Mike Reiss of ESPN that he will also be opting out.

Cannon should be in the high-risk category ($350,000 stipend and an accrued season) due to the non-Hodgkins lymphoma he battled in college. Vitale and his wife just had a newborn. Hightower, Vitale, Bolden and Toran are believed to be voluntary ($150,000 stipend salary advance and no accrued season). Their contracts will toll for this season.

“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family," Hightower said in a statement to NFL Media.

https://twitter.com/zeus30hightower/status/1288213091847741442

The good news is the Patriots should recover about $16 million in cap space for this season.

The bad news? They need new starters at impact linebacker, right tackle and fullback, and they might need a veteran backup option at center.

What will they do at each spot?

LINEBACKER

Hightower is a massive blow. There's no other way around it.