BOSTON (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says New England 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, the person said.
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, starting safety Patrick Chung and fullback Danny Vitale have also chosen to sit out the season, citing health concerns.
Cannon is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during his final season at Texas Christian University in 2011. Vitale has a young family and doesn't want to risk exposing them, according to the sources.
The NFL and the players association agreed last week to an opt-out clause for the upcoming season. Those who choose to voluntarily sit out will receive a $150,000 stipend and those with medical opt outs will receive $350,000 rather than their contractual salary.
Hightower has been a staple of New England's defense since being drafted in the first round in 2012, helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls. The two-time Pro Bowler signed a four-year, $35.5 million contract in 2017. He was scheduled to make an $8 million base salary this season.
His absence is the latest blow to a Patriots linebacking group that saw key contributors Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts leave the team in free agency.
Cannon has been a regular on the offensive line since 2016 and missed just one game in 2019. He played 88% of the offensive snaps last season. He was scheduled to make $4.7 million this season.
That leaves the Patriots somewhat thin at the tackle spot. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn has missed all but eight games since being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
The only other tackles on the roster are 2019 draft pick Yodny Cajuste, 2020 sixth-rounder Justin Herron and veteran Korey Cunningham, who appeared in only one game for New England last season.
The Patriots were hoping Vitale, who was signed in March after being cut by the Packers, would help fill the void left following James Develin's decision to retire in the offseason.
Though NFL veterans can officially begin reporting to training camp Tuesday, the Patriots say their players are not reporting until this upcoming weekend.
As of Monday, the team was awaiting approval of its Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan to help protect its players and staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.