As part of last year’s Covid-19 protocols, the NFL gave players an opportunity to opt out of the 2020 season over concerns about the virus. A total of 67 decided to take advantage, including a league-high eight members of the New England Patriots.
Whether or not the Patriots will again lead the league in Covid-19 opt-outs this year remains to be seen, but they will know about their players’ intentions quite soon. According to a report by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, players have until 4 pm ET next Friday, July 2, to inform their teams if they want to opt out of the upcoming 2021 campaign.
As was the case last year, the league will differentiate between high-risk opt-outs and those voluntarily taking a year off. Players qualifying for high-risk status are again entitled to a $350,000 stipend, which is the same they would have gotten a year ago. Voluntary opt-outs, on the other hand, will not receive any compensation after getting $150,000 in 2020.
Another difference is that rookies are generally not eligible to opt out: only those who have executed their contracts prior to October 1 last year are allowed to exercise a voluntary opt-out. Rookies who are deemed as high-risk can still opt out, with their respective club continuing to hold his rights.
The Patriots, as noted above, led the league in opt-outs during the 2020 season: linebacker Don’t Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, running back Brandon Bolden, offensive linemen Marcus Cannon and Najee Toran, tight end Matt LaCosse, fullback Danny Vitale and wide receiver Marqise Lee all decided to sit out the year. Heading towards 2021 training camp, however, only three of them are still with the team.
While Hightower, Bolden and LaCosse remain under contract. The others have all departed: Chung announced his retirement earlier this offseason; Cannon was traded to the Houston Texans; Toran, Vitale and Lee were released.
While things can still change between now and next Friday, the Patriots should not expect a considerable number of opt-outs this season based on participation during voluntary offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp alone.