On Monday, the New England Patriots saw three of their players — offensive linemen Marcus Cannon and Najee Toran, fullback Danny Vitale — exercise their bargained right to opt out of the upcoming season. On Tuesday, two more are joining them on the list: linebacker Dont’a Hightower (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter) and running back Brandon Bolden (via WEEI’s Nick Stevens).
Hightower, who became a dad not even two weeks ago, is the highest-profile player in the NFL to opt-out yet: a three-time Super Bowl winner, he has played a prominent role in the Patriots’ defense ever since arriving in 2012. Serving as a team leader and the unit’s on-field signal caller, he was projected to again see considerable snaps in 2020 — especially with the Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins having left the team in free agency.
Hightower’s experience and communication skills would have been vital to the defensive operation this year, but New England will instead have to turn to the young players on its roster to fill his void: front-seven defenders Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich and John Simon will have to take on even bigger roles with the team captain opting out for the 2020 season. Likewise, the team’s front-seven personnel suffers another hit.
Bolden’s opt-out, meanwhile, hurts the Patriots’ special teams units: Bolden was projected to again see regular action on New England’s kicking game squads — on both coverage, return and block teams — and to rank among the team leaders in playing time and tackles. Furthermore, the 30-year-old would have offered experienced depth at the running back position as well.