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Dont’a Hightower among Patriots Coronavirus opt-outs reportedly planning to return for 2021 season

Related: Ranking the Patriots’ eight Coronavirus opt-outs by potential impact in 2021

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Even before the start of the new league year it seems as if the New England Patriots will be able to receive some major reinforcements. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, key members of the team such as Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and Marcus Cannon are all planning to return for the upcoming season after opting out of the 2020 campaign.

Before the start of last season, players were given an opportunity to opt out over concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. Hightower, Chung and Cannon were among eight total Patriots to do just that.

In fact, no team saw more players take advantage of the opt-out than New England: the three starers were joined by Brandon Bolden, Matt LaCosse, Danny Vitale, Marqise Lee and Najee Toran to represent 12 percent of all league-wide opt-outs. In total, 67 players across the league made the decision to forgo the 2020 season because of Covid-19.

While Rapoport’s report is not necessarily breaking news, it is a confirmation of team captain Devin McCourty saying earlier this month that “from my understanding, they’ll all be back.”

All eight of the Patriots’ opt-outs could compete for roster spots in 2021, but Hightower, Chung and Cannon still have special status among them considering that they are long-time starters on the team. Hightower and Chung have played sizable roles at linebacker and safety over the last few years, helping the team win three Super Bowls. Cannon, meanwhile, emerged as the team’s starting right tackle in 2016 after five seasons as a versatile backup.

While the latter is not guaranteed to return on his current $9.62 million salary cap hit, both Hightower and Chung could resume the starter-level roles they held before opting out last summer.

Hightower — arguably the most valuable of New England’s opt-outs — is expected to resume his role as the defense’s on-field signal caller and a do-it-all move linebacker. A leader in the front seven, his presence alone will upgrade a position group that had its fair share of struggles during the 2020 season.

Chung, meanwhile, offers depth alongside fellow safeties Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. Together with Phillips he will be used as a box safety, possibly freeing up youngster Dugger to take more deep-field snaps after an already encouraging rookie season.