Dont'a Hightower

Patriots linebacker Dont’a 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. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has opted out of playing the 2020 season.

Hightower, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and a three-time Super Bowl winner in eight seasons with New England, becomes one of the more accomplished NFL players to choose against playing this season as teams open their training camps amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. He also adds to a list of Patriots players to opt out.

Hightower’s decision was confirmed by two people familiar with the situation after being first reported by ESPN. Hightower, 30, also confirmed the decision in a message to the league-owned NFL Network in which he said: “Me and my fiancee are just more concerned with the health of our family than football – especially the new addition to our family.”

He has a son that was born this month.

Patriots safety Patrick Chung told ESPN that he is opting out, becoming the sixth New England player known to have done so. Other Patriots players to opt out reportedly include running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, guard Najee Toran and fullback Danny Vitale. Cannon was diagnosed non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma before beginning his NFL career and it is believed that he will qualify for the high-risk opt-out.

Until last year, Chung had posted at least 84 tackles and generated one turnover every season since 2014. Limited by injury, he managed only 51 stops and three passes deflected during in 2019. This offseason, Chung agreed to two-year contract extension through 2024.

Under the opt-out rules in the agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, any player can choose to opt out of the season and receive a $150,000 stipend. A player deemed at high risk because of medical factors receives a stipend of $350,000. It is not believed that Hightower, who was to have a base salary of $8 million this season if he’d played, qualifies for the high-risk category. This was to be the final season of his contract but that deal now tolls, meaning that it rolls over into next year and he remains under contract to the Patriots for one more season.

Other NFL players confirmed or reported to be opting out of the season include Washington defensive lineman Caleb Brantley, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, New Orleans Saints tight end Cole Wick, Seattle Seahawks guard Chance Warmack, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Maurice Canady, Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Andre Smith and Ravens wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas.

Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who graduated from medical school in 2018 and worked this offseason as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Canada, became the first NFL player to opt out when he announced his decision Friday night.

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