Six New England Patriots players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to coronavirus concerns since Monday.
Their exits from the active roster, along with the discussions that went into it, are not lost on Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“I respect all of them, and I respect all the players on our team,” Belichick said Friday on his pre-training camp video conference with reporters. “We all have to make decisions. I talked to those guys and they explained their situations. They had to make the decision that was best for them, and I totally respect and support it 100 percent.”
New England goes forward without running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, offensive linemen Najee Toran and Marcus Cannon, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung.
As part of the Covid-19 agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association, players who fall under the high-risk category of opt-outs will receive a $350,000 stipend while accruing a season. Voluntary opt-outs who fall under the lower-risk category will receive a $150,000 salary advance as their contract tolls into 2021.
Asked whether he anticipated more opt-outs coming for the Patriots, Belichick said it remains a cloudy crystal ball.
“I think everybody’s got to make their own individual decisions on that, and they have to weigh their own situation. Each one of us is unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments, so forth and so on,” added Belichick. “There’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that. The crystal ball is kind of cloudy right now, so I have no idea what will happen along those lines. I think everybody in the league, every team in the league, every player, every coach, everybody in the league is involved in that to some degree. We’ll just have to see how it turns out.”
As of Friday, New England stood as one of a select few teams around the NFL that had yet to place a player on the Covid-19 reserve list, which was created for those who either test positive for coronavirus or are in quarantine after being in close contact with a person infected.
All Patriots players must log three negative tests before entering Gillette Stadium for physicals and equipment fitting, per the league’s policy. Virtual meetings as well as strength and conditioning are ahead. The initial full-pads practice is not scheduled to arrive before Aug. 17.
“The No. 1 thing is safety for everybody involved – players, staff, the organization, all our support people and so forth,” said Belichick. “The biggest thing is to try to start the season healthy. And that means healthy in a safe environment with all the required testing and so forth that we’ve been through.”