A total of 66 players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season ahead of Thursday’s deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic, including 20 offensive linemen and 11 defensive players.
Players with a medical opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend, while those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.
No team has come close to New England in losing players for the upcoming season, which begins September 10 with Houston at Super Bowl champion Kansas City.
The Patriots, already minus several stars who left in free agency – including, of course, Tom Brady to Tampa Bay – saw eight opt outs: running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, tight end Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Marqise Lee, offensive lineman Najee Toran and fullback Dan Vitale.
Hightower, Chung, and Cannon, a cancer survivor who could be at higher risk, were key contributors in recent seasons.
Hightower said he opted out because he wants to focus on his family’s health amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
‘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 in a statement given to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Furthermore, Hightower’s mother L’Tyna is a diabetic — a condition that can complicate the treatment of, and recovery from, the coronavirus infection.
Starting players like Hightower and Cannon were set to earn $8 million and $4.7 million, respectively, in 2020, and will be taking a major pay cut regardless of their designation.
Cleveland was next with five players skipping the season: defensive tackle Andrew Billings, tackle Drake Dorbeck and guards Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon.
Only three teams had no one opting out: the Steelers, Falcons and Chargers.
‘Those are not easy decisions to make as a player, especially when you love the game,’ said Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who will play this season. ‘But family will always come first. And I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations with my wife and, yeah, it’s not ever going to be easy. Just like for the rest of America, it’s not easy on anyone right now.’
The rest of the breakdown by positions:
There are 11 wide receivers; eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, three tights ends and safeties. There were no quarterbacks, kickers or punters opting out.
Should a player decide to walk away after Thursday’s deadline because of a changed medical circumstance, he would get a stipend – unless he already exceeded the value of the stipend in the time he was active. Otherwise, there will be no financial compensation for voluntary future opt outs.
There also are salary cap relief machinations attached to opt outs. Contract bonus payments due to be applied to the cap in 2020 will be delayed a year even though the bonus has been paid.
Denver’s Simmons saw two teammates, Von Miller and Kareem Jackson, contract COVID-19. Both are back and planning to play, which aided Simmons in deciding not to opt out.
‘Speaking just in my family, my wife is the one that’s the most nervous,’ he said, ‘and we understand everything going on with numbers and statistics. But just having conversations with guys like Kareem and Von, people that have had it and had to endure that and work through it. It’s a scary time. And the reality is this is affecting a lot of families.
‘And so, my wife and I have had really difficult conversations about opting out and what the season’s going to look like. And do you really think measures are being taken that you guys are being cared for in the best way possible? And obviously I haven’t seen a lot of the places around the NFL, but just being here you can really see the effort in the Denver facilities to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure we can play football in a safe manner.’
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marquise Goodwin opted out of the season because he wants to stay with his five-month-old daughter, Marae, and wife, Morgan, who battled through a series miscarriages in recent years while he was away playing football.
In an essay posted on social media, Goodwin, who was traded to Philadelphia over the off-season, explained that this time, he’s refusing to leave his wife’s side.
‘Three years ago, I made a decision that affected my whole life,’ wrote the 29-year-old. ‘I [chose] to leave my wife at the hospital [to play in a football game] after [she prematurely gave birth to our first baby boy due to an incompetent cervix] which resulted in a fatality.
‘I felt like I had to prove to my coaches and new team that I was dedicated to winning and I wouldn’t let anything keep me from the goal, not even my family,’ explained Goodwin, who was a member of the San Francisco 49ers at the time.
Morgan, a former hurdling champion at the University of Texas, was without her husband as their boy died just hours before his 49ers played the New York Giants.
A year later, while she was expecting twins, there was another tragedy.
‘The following year in the same month, same week, our lives took another traumatic turn,’ he continued. ‘Two weeks after learning her abdominal cerclage was failing, my wife called me shortly after we landed and arrived to our team hotel in Tampa, Florida to inform me she was having painful contractions, and my grandma (who flew up to help take care of Morgan while I would go to work and away games) had to rush her to the emergency room.
‘Here we are again in the same predicament as a year ago, except I was almost 3,000 miles away this time.’
‘After much prayer and discussion, I told our team GM [John Lynch] that I absolutely had to fly back and take care of my wife, in attempt to honor my wedding vowels that I made to both her, myself, and God,’ Goodwin wrote. ‘He and the 49ers organization, as well as my teammates, fully supported that decision which took a huge weight off of my shoulders.
‘Unfortunately, we ended up losing our twin boys, making it now 3 angel babies that I’ve had to hold and watch as their little heart beats grew more and more faint by the minute, until it stopped. My dream of being a father once again took a huge blow and it hurt deeply.’
The couple finally became parents on February 19 at 7:48am, when baby Marae was born.
‘SHE is the reason I am opting out for this season,’ Goodwin explained. ‘After choosing football many times, I feel I am inclined to make the right decision by finally choosing my family first.’
Perhaps the most unique reason for opting out belonged to Kansas City Chiefs starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a trained physician who is staying in his native Canada to help patients dealing with COVID-19.
‘Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system,’ he announced on July 24.
‘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.’
Chiefs running back Damien Williams said in an interview that he opted out of the 2020 NFL season because his mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
‘With everything that’s going on, she was the only one there for me,’ he told SiriusXM NFL Radio. ‘I never had the opportunity to have my dad there. My mom is my rock, my everything, so during a hard time like this, I think I should be next to her every step.’
Williams, 28, said it was the right decision for his family.
His mother, Virleanna Alexander, is a longtime California paralegal, who raised Williams and his two brothers by herself, according to a 2009 San Diego Union-Tribune piece.