No other team in the NFL had as may players exercise the Coronavirus opt-out clause earlier this year than the New England Patriots. A total of eight players decided to sit out the 2020 season over concerns about the virus, including veteran cornerstones such as Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon and Brandon Bolden.
While there has been not confirmation about their respective futures yet from the others, Bolden took to social media earlier this week to confirm that he indeed will return his career in 2020: the running back and special teamer shared a Tweet stating that “[expletive] yea I’ll be back.”
For everybody asking yea I’ll be back pic.twitter.com/U0ykrXzGsx— Brandon Bolden (@BB_HulkSmash) December 30, 2020
Bolden entered the 2020 offseason facing some competition at a deep running back position, but he was still a near-lock to make the roster given his contributions in the kicking game. Just one year earlier, after all, the veteran was on the field for 345 of a possible 474 special teams snaps for the Patriots (72.8%). Only team captain Matthew Slater saw more action than that, while Bolden regularly proved himself a difference maker.
All in all, he finished the last season before his opt-out with seven tackles, a forced fumble, and a blocked punt that was eventually returned for a touchdown. Furthermore, he also saw regular action on offense as a third receiving/change-of-pace back behind James White and Rex Burkhead. As such, he carried the football 15 times for a combined 68 and three touchdowns, and also registered nine receptions for 111 yards and one additional score.
While he played a valuable role on the team and would have helped fill the leadership vacuum created by the Patriots’ multiple offseason departures, Bolden decided to opt out of the 2020 campaign under the high-risk stipulation. After one year on the sidelines, however, he now seems willing to return.
The question is whether or not that will happen in New England.
Bolden is still under contract with the team after his deal tolled into the 2021 season. He will therefore be on the Patriots’ books with a salary cap number of $1.99 million — including a $500,000 guarantee in the form of his signing bonus proration. Releasing him, on the other hand, would result in net salary cap savings of around $900,000.
While his financial outlook has not changed compared to the 2020 offseason, the situation as a whole has as head coach Bill Belichick confirmed during a recent interview on WEEI.
”I haven’t talked to a lot of those guys,“ he said about the Patriots’ Covid-19 opt-outs. ”I’m sure that when the season’s over, we’ll reconvene with them. I don’t know that any of us know a lot about what next month is going to look like or next year is going to look like, so it may be hard for... I’m not saying they have or haven’t made decisions, but it might be hard for them or, honestly, somebody else whose circumstances may have changed to make a decision on that until we all know more or have more information.
”The league will have to set up some kind of system next year. Whether it reverts back to what it was or whether it gets modified or whether it’s something similar to this year, there’s a lot of unanswered questions there.”
The 2021 season would be the ninth of Bolden’s career after he arrived in the league as a rookie free agent signing by the Patriots in 2012. He spent all seasons of his career but one in New England (he was with the Miami Dolphins in 2018) and won two Super Bowl rings with the organization. All in all, he has appeared in 114 regular season games and 16 playoff contests.