The New England Patriots knew in early March they’d be replacing Tom Brady. They handled that situation just fine.
What nobody could have guessed in early March was that a pandemic would cost the Patriots multiple starters and other key veterans as they opt out of the 2020 season.
When players were allowed the option of sitting out this season due to coronavirus concerns, the first team that was hit the hardest was the Patriots. And it’ll be much harder for them to fill the holes now that it’s late July.
Bill Belichick has a unique challenge ahead.
Patriots lose key starter on both sides of ball
The Patriots lost a key starter on each side of the ball in a 24-hour period.
Late Tuesday night, news broke from the Boston Herald that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon had opted out of the season. Cannon had started all 50 games he played at right tackle over the past four seasons, including 15 starts last season.
Then the Patriots lost linebacker Dont’a Hightower, ESPN said. Hightower, whose baby was born July 16, opted out. The 30-year-old made his second Pro Bowl last season. His versatility is a key to the Patriots defense.
New England also had running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran opt out. Coupled with the typical offseason losses, that’s a lot to replace.
New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower is one of the players to opt out of the 2020 season. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
MorePatriots have lost a lot
The Patriots saw plenty of talented players leave in free agency. Brady went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and multiple starters on defense are gone including linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
If the Patriots can keep their streak of AFC East titles going, it’ll be impressive. Cannon was 30th among all tackles with 600 snaps in PFF’s grades. Hightower has been a stalwart for years on the defense. Vitale had a lot of value since the Patriots use the fullback more than most. Bolden played 321 special team snaps last season, second on the team to special teams captain Matthew Slater.
This season will be unusual in many ways, and the Patriots didn’t expect to lose at least a handful of players before camp even started. New England isn’t going to be the last team to experience losses like that.