By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
A total of 66 players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of them linemen.
Twenty offensive linemen and 11 on defense opted out before Thursday’s deadline. Players with a medical opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend, while those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.
No team has come close to New England in losing players for the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 10 with Houston at Super Bowl champion Kansas City. The Patriots, already minus several stars who left in free agency — including, of course, Tom Brady to Tampa Bay — saw eight opt outs: running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, tight end Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Marqise Lee, offensive lineman Najee Toran and fullback Dan Vitale. Hightower, Cannon and Chung were key contributors in recent seasons.
Cleveland was next with five players skipping the season: defensive tackle Andrew Billings, tackle Drake Dorbeck and guards Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon.
Only three teams had no one opting out: the Steelers, Falcons and Chargers.
“Those are not easy decisions to make as a player, especially when you love the game,” said Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who will play this season. “But family will always come first. And I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations with my wife and, yeah, it’s not ever going to be easy. Just like for the rest of America, it’s not easy on anyone right now.”
The rest of the breakdown by positions:
There are 11 wide receivers; eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, three tights ends and safeties. There were no quarterbacks, kickers or punters opting out.
Should a player decide to walk away after Thursday’s deadline because of a changed medical circumstance, he would get a stipend — unless he already exceeded the value of the stipend in the time he was active. Otherwise, there will be no financial compensation for voluntary future opt outs.
There also are salary cap relief machinations attached to opt outs. Contract bonus payments due to be applied to the cap in 2020 will be delayed a year even though the bonus has been paid.
Denver’s Simmons saw two teammates, Von Miller and Kareem Jackson, contract COVID-19. Both are back and planning to play, which aided Simmons in deciding not to opt out.
“Speaking just in my family, my wife is the one that’s the most nervous,” he said, “and we understand everything going on with numbers and statistics. But just having conversations with guys like Kareem and Von, people that have had it and had to endure that and work through it. It’s a scary time. And the reality is this is affecting a lot of families.
“And so, my wife and I have had really difficult conversations about opting out and what the season’s going to look like. And do you really think measures are being taken that you guys are being cared for in the best way possible? And obviously I haven’t seen a lot of the places around the NFL, but just being here you can really see the effort in the Denver facilities to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure we can play football in a safe manner.”
AP Pro Football Writers Dennis Waszak Jr. and Arnie Stapleton contributed.
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