Six Patriots opt out of 2020 NFL season, per multiple reports

Six Patriots opt out of 2020 NFL season, per multiple reports
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Foxborough, Mass. Hightower has decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. Hightower’s decision was made out of concern for the health of his fiancée and child, who was born earlier this month, the person said. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) (Elise Amendola)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Six members of the New England Patriots will not suit up for the six-time Super Bowl champions in the 2020 NFL season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to multiple reports.

RB Brandon Bolden, OT Marcus Cannon, S Patrick Chung, LB Dont’a Hightower, OL Najee Toran and FB Danny Vitale have all opted not to play in the fall’s upcoming football season.

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Chung was the latest of the Patriots to opt-out, with ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss making the announcement early Tuesday afternoon.

The 32-year-old played in 13 games for New England in 2019, making a combined 51 tackles and defending three passes. The safety has played 10 of his 11 pro seasons with the Patriots since the team selected him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was first to break the news of Hightower’s decision Tuesday morning, which came nearly two weeks after the two-time Pro-Bowl linebacker and his wife welcomed a son on July 16.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport passed on a message from Hightower about his impending absence nearly an hour after Schefter’s initial report.

“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower said in a quote tweeted by Rapoport.

Hightower, 29, is coming off a Pro Bowl season for New England.

In 2019, he recorded 5.5 sacks and 71 combined tackles in 15 games. The linebacker also recovering one fumble and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8. It was his first touchdown since his rookie season in 2012.

Bolden, a running back and special teamer, also will not play for the Patriots in 2020, according to multiple reports. That news was first announced on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show on Tuesday morning.

The 29-year-old has played in New England for seven of his eight years in the NFL.

Bolden scored four touchdowns in 2019 for the Patriots and forced one fumble on special teams. He also returned 23 kicks for the team a season ago.

Cannon’s future absence on the offensive line for the 2020 season was first reported by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Jim Murray.

Now 32, Cannon battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma back in 2011, when he played in seven of the team’s 16 regular-season games. His status as a high-risk player means he will receive $350,000 from NFL despite opting out.

Cannon has been with the Patriots for all nine seasons of his NFL career. He was named Second Team All-Pro in 2016 by the Associated Press.

Toran was signed to the Patriots practice squad in September 2019. His decision to opt-out was first publicized by the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride on Monday evening.

Additionally, newly signed FB Vitale also will not suit up for New England this season. USA Today’s Jarrett Bell was first to report the story.

Vitale played the last two seasons in Green Bay with the Packers. There, he hauled in seven passes for 97 yards - both career highs - in 15 games in 2019. Three of those receptions resulted in first downs.

The full-back and his wife recently welcomed a baby girl to their family in April of this year.