The New England Patriots are facing significant roster issues ahead of the start of the new NFL season. According to multiple reports, five Patriots players, including Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower, opted out of 2020 due to concerns related to COVID-19.
NFL Network’s Mike Giardi reported Hightower decided not to play in 2020 after becoming a father earlier this month. He also took into consideration that his mother has diabetes.
Aside from Hightower, running back Brandon Bolden, right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran will also sit out the upcoming season.
Out of the five players, Dont’a Hightower’s absence will be most challenging for the Patriots, considering the team already lost several veterans in the free agency. The 30-year-old has been a mainstay in Pats’ defense since entering the league in 2012 and was one of the team’s most reliable players.
Hightower was especially productive in 2019, managing 71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four pass deflections, and one defensive touchdown. This earned him his second Pro Bowl selection.
Brandon Bolden wasn’t prominently used by New England last season, but he was considered a valuable piece in special teams squad. Bolden also provided depth in offense thanks to his ability to be both running and receiving threat.
Marcus Cannon is another big loss for New England, as he emerged as the team’s starting right tackle in recent years. Cannon played 115 games with 69 starts since 2011 and has one Second-team All-Pro appearance. He is a cancer survivor, which played a significant role in his decision to miss the 2020 season.
Danny Vitale and Najee Toran, on the other hand, were set to make their debuts for New England this season. Vitale signed with Pats in the offseason, while Toran was promoted from the practice squad.