Bill Belichick already had his work cut out for him this season in dealing with the absence of Tom Brady but on Tuesday, a total of six New England Patriots had reportedly chose to opt out of the season, including three-time Super Bowl champion Dont’a Hightower.
Sources told ESPN that the 30-year-old inside linebacker is planning to opt-out of the season amid pandemic fears. He told the NFL Network on Tuesday that his biggest concern is his newborn child.
“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” he said of his 2-week-old son.
A three-time Super Bowl champ and a two-time Pro Bowler, Hightower being absent will surely be noticeable. He joins five other teammates who have decided to opt out, including Brandon Bolden, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Danny Vitale and Najee Toran.
Hightower is going into the final year of his contract and he was set to earn a base salary of $8 million, ESPN reported. But with the opt-out clause, he will only earn $150,000. An agreement with the league and the NFLPA will offer a $350,000 stipend to players who opt out but are considered high-risk.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my life but I must follow my convictions and do what I believe is right for me personally,” his statement read. “I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”
Since then a number of players have opted out. As the number continues to grow, there is serious concern about how the season will be impacted.