The Patriots and the Pandemic

Why are players on the league’s most “Team-centric” team (you know, the Patriots) opting out of the 2020 NFL season?

As reported by a range of sources over the past twenty-four hours, it appears that Tom Brady won’t be the only big name missing in Foxboro when the 2020 NFL season starts. With opening day still over six weeks away, defensive stalwarts Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower, starting offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and multi-purpose running back Brandon Bolden as well as two others have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19. 

It’s a fair concern in a league that employs hundreds of players and personnel on every game day. Not to mention that the league has been pretty silent about what safety protocols will look like in a sport where face to face contact is just part of the game.  

Full teams are due in training camp, and I expect that New England won’t be the only team that has a few players make that choice. The question is: Why is the team that prides itself on its trademarked team-first attitude “The Patriot Way” seemingly the first team to see major personnel losses because of the pandemic?

Some will point to the exit of Tom Brady as a loss of that team concept in New England, and it’s a theory that makes sense on the surface. Many football pundits are expecting the collapse of the AFC East’s longtime bully without Brady under center. But the reality of the situation is that the commitment to the Patriots’ concept is a two-way street between Bill Belichick and his players. What the Hoodie doesn’t like, more than anything, is surprises. Everything else can be planned for or worked around. 

My suspicion is that behind closed doors, away from the beat reporters, the word from the Patriots head coach was something like this: “Make a choice either way and we’ll support you, just don’t walk out on us once we’re ready to roll in September…”. 

The loss of Hightower and Chung will put a strain on a defense that propped up a floundering Patriots offense last season, while the loss of Cannon will further complicate things along the offensive line in New England’s first season without longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.  Make no mistake, these are serious personnel losses what will impact New England in 2020. 

Many other teams may be comfortable with the “wait and see” approach that the league seems to have adopted, but that sort of uncertainty just isn’t welcome in New England, where preparation doesn’t just mean weekly practice, it’s a way of life.  

I’m sure that the Patriots aren’t thrilled to lose players like Chung, Hightower and Cannon as the season draws near, but as we all navigate these highly unusual times, it’s easy to see why these men, some of them new or expecting fathers, are choosing to put family over football.  

I know it seems scary Patriot fans, but they’ll be just fine. 

Why? 

Well, Belichick could probably sort it out with players from the practice squad and other teams’ scrap piles, but he won’t need to.  The opt-outs leave New England with a healthy $24 million-plus in cap space for the season.  Paging Jadaveon Clowney, you have a call on the white courtesy phone…  

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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