Training Camp Roundup: Coronavirus Opt-Outs Hit the NFL
Training camps around the NFL are officially underway. Sort of.
Tuesday was the first day veterans who are not quarterbacks could report, if they chose to do so. However, numerous players decided to opt out of the 2020 season because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Their absences could have massive repercussions around the league.
As such, those who decided not to play this season dominate B/R's first training camp roundup of the 2020 campaign.
6 New England Patriots Players Opt Out of 2020 Season
The New England Patriots had six players—linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, right tackle Marcus Cannon, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and reserve offensive lineman Najee Toran—opt out of the 2020 season before the start of training camp, per ESPN's Mike Reiss.
Hightower's absence will create a significant void in the Patriots defense. He ranked second on the team in total tackles (71) and quarterback hits (13) last season, and he was fourth in sacks (5.5).
New England has plenty of unproven options to take over for Hightower in Terez Hall and rookies Josh Uche, De'Jon Harris and Cassh Maluia.
Cannon, meanwhile, started 50 games over the last four seasons. Last year's third-round investment in Yodny Cajuste could significantly offset the loss of the veteran strongside blocker.
The free-agent addition of Adrian Phillips can help fill Chung's spot. Phillips may not be as versatile as Chung, but he's an excellent box safety with the ability to play sub-package linebacker.
New England may also shy away from using a fullback too much after Vitale's decision, though Jakob Johnson is still on the roster.
The Patriots can always dip into free agency to help fill some holes, as they now have more than $25 million in salary-cap space after the opt-outs, per Spotrac.
Bears Must Fortify Defensive Interior After Eddie Goldman's Opt-Out
Eddie Goldman is a vital piece to the Chicago Bears defense, but he decided to opt out this season "due to health concerns related to COVID-19," per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks often draw more attention, but Goldman does the dirty work, which makes everything else possible for his teammates.
The 26-year-old nose tackle ranked 17th among interior defenders over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus. He was also named a Pro Bowl alternate last season.
Veteran John Jenkins, who signed with the Bears in free agency this offseason, brings plenty of experience, with 28 starts in seven seasons. Chicago could also move Hicks over center to get both him and the promising Roy Robertson-Harris in the starting unit.
Deep Buffalo Bills' Defensive Interior Takes Significant Hit
The Buffalo Bills enter the 2020 season with high expectations after last season's playoff appearance. However, they'll be without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who opted out of playing this season, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Although the Bills have plenty of depth along their defensive interior, the loss of Lotulelei is still significant. The 30-year-old started every game for Buffalo over the last two seasons.
Lotulelei's decision should create a significant opportunity for third-year defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. The 2018 third-round pick suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 3 of last season, but he should be fully recovered and might take over as their 1-technique player.
If Phillips struggles, Buffalo can turn to Vernon Butler, whom it signed this offseason, to play alongside Ed Oliver. The dynamic between those two could be interesting.
Oliver played nose tackle in college, while Butler is more comfortable as a 3- or 5-technique. The Bills wouldn't be as strong at the point of attack with those two possibly starting, but they would form a talented duo.
Prized Free Agent Won't Play for Vikings This Fall
Continuing the opt-outs along the defensive interior, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce chose not to play this season, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
Four months ago, the 27-year-old signed a three-year, $27 million deal to serve as the anchor of the Vikings defense. However, he won't take a snap in the purple and yellow until 2021.
The 340-pound defensive lineman is extremely difficult to move off the spot, and he has graded among the league's better run defenders in three of his four NFL seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
The Vikings thought they were set after signing Pierce. Now, they're searching for a new starting 1-technique.
Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts and Hercules Mata'afa may be in line for more snaps in Pierce's absence. Minnesota also drafted James Lynch in this year's fourth round. He'll convert to a full-time interior defender in the NFL after flexing between end and tackle with the Baylor Bears.
Jets Contemplate Quarantining Their Quarterbacks
A year ago, the New York Jets had to deal with starting quarterback Sam Darnold contracting mononucleosis. Darnold missed three games as a result.
The Jets may take dramatic steps to keep their quarterbacks healthy this season.
According to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, New York's coaching staff discussed the idea of quarantining the quarterbacks from the rest of the team "quite a bit."
"Once you start sticking traveling in there in the regular season, we do have to keep talking through these types of things and figuring out the best things for us to do," head coach Adam Gase told reporters.
Last season, the Jets didn't have a quality backup on the roster. They now have Joe Flacco as a viable QB2 and veteran presence behind Darnold.
The goal is to keep everyone healthy, especially those who play the game's most important position.
Raheem Mostert Moves Beyond Trade Request, Signs New Contract with 49ers
Three weeks ago, Raheem Mostert's agent, Brett Tessler, requested a trade for his client after he and the San Francisco 49ers couldn't agree upon a reworked contract.
After meeting with a "high-ranking member of the organization" to "clear the air," per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the two sides were able to work out an agreement.
Tessler tweeted Monday that he had finalized a new deal for Mostert.
The 49ers originally signed Mostert with the intention of him being a core special teams performer, but he emerged as much more last season. The career journeyman wound up leading the 49ers during the regular season with 772 rushing yards, and he was even better in the postseason.
The five-year veteran exploded with a career-high 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.
Mostert will now enter this sixth season as a lead back for the first time, while the 49ers have retained a talented runner for their outstanding outside-zone scheme.