Anytime an NFL team loses a player for the season, it represents a big blow. Usually, that happens because of an injury. However, the 2020 NFL season will look a lot different with 66 players opting-out due to COVID-19 concerns. But which NFL team had the most players opt-out? Let’s take a deeper dive into the NFL teams most effected by players opting-out.
NFL teams watched 66 players opt out of the 2020 NFL season
The NFL put the pressure on its players to make their opt-out decision by 4 p.m. on Thursday. While Tre’Davious White made Buffalo Bills fans anxious, he ultimately decided to play this season. However, 66 NFL players collectively sacrificed millions of dollars in salaries by opting-out of the 2020 NFL season.
It certainly took a ton of courage to make that choice. After all, players who do not fall under the high-risk category will receive a $150,000 stipend that will get deducted from their 2021 salary. Those who fall under the high-risk category will receive a $350,000 stipend and credit for an accrued NFL season.
Beyond the financial implications, players also risk losing their jobs next season. Aging players who won’t suit up this season could get replaced by younger, cheaper options. Others who may have been on the verge of retirement could find the year off from football so relaxing that they may never play again.
With more than a full roster worth of players electing not to compete this season, a few NFL teams got hit particularly hard by the opt-out process.
The Cleveland Browns lost five players to opt-outs
Cleveland Browns fans certainly have experience dealing with losses. After all, the organization has been a dumpster fire for years. The Browns did attack free agency aggressively by signing Austin Hooper to a record-setting deal. Plus, the team inked Jack Conklin to a massive contract to start at right tackle.
However, the Browns had five players opt-out of the 2020 NFL season, which ranked second in the league. Andrew Billings headlines Cleveland’s opt-out group. The defensive tackle has started 37 games since entering the league as a fourth-round pick in 2016. His loss certainly won’t make Myles Garrett’s job any easier.
Drew Forbes also opted-out of playing this fall. A sixth-round pick in 2019, the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder looked like a top candidate to start at right guard. Three other linemen also took the opt-out route. Drake Dorbeck, Malcolm Pridgeon, and Colby Gossett will not play for the Browns in 2020.
Even with five players sitting out the 2020 NFL season, the Browns didn’t get hit the hardest by opt-outs. Another NFL team suffered a far worse fate.
The New England Patriots lost the most players to opt-outs
Not even Bill Belichick could have prepared for the exodus of talent via COVID-19 opt-outs. Out of all NFL teams, the New England Patriots lost a league-high eight players to opt-outs. And unlike the Browns, the Patriots will have a much more difficult time replacing the production and leadership from their personnel losses.
Dont’a Hightower became the highest-profile player to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season. Since Belichick selected him 25th overall in 2012, the former Alabama linebacker has developed into one of the team’s top players and most respected leaders. Hightower’s rare combination of size, speed, strength, and intelligence makes him irreplaceable.
New England’s top-ranked defense also lost a key veteran in Pat Chung. Though he just signed another contract extension this offseason, the three-time Super Bowl champion will not play this year due to family concerns. It’s fair to wonder whether Chung—who turns 33 in August—will come back in 2021.
Cam Newton’s chances of resurrecting his career also took a hit with right tackle Marcus Cannon opting-out of the 2020 NFL season. The veteran offensive lineman underwent treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma during his rookie season. That leaves a gaping hole at a position where the Patriots do not boast quality depth.
Overall, the Patriots got decimated from COVID-19 opt-outs. While Belichick does have some promising young prospects who could fill in, it seems like an impossible task to replace the collective amount of championship experience and veteran leadership lost over the last few weeks.
But if any NFL team has proven how to overcome adversity, it’s New England. Let’s just see if Belichick has any more tricks up his sleeves.