A huge piece of the New England Patriots’ defense has decided to opt out of the 2020 season.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will opt out of the season, NFL Network’s Michael Giardi confirmed Tuesday.
Hightower became a first-time father on July 16. His mother also has Type 2 diabetes.
According to an agreement approved by both the league and the NFL Players Association, players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they choose to opt out. Players who voluntarily opt out of the campaign will receive a $150,000 salary advance and their contract will toll.
“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
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Hightower’s foundation annually raises money for the American Diabetes Association, which has important meaning to him as his mother, L’Tanya, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Hightower keeps a picture of his mother at his locker.
Hightower was booked to earn a base salary of $8 million in the final year of his contract, which will roll over to 2021.
The decision is a big blow to a Patriots defense already undergoing a transition with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts leaving via free agency.
Hightower is a thumper in the middle of the Pats defense who has the flexibility to rush the passer. Per Pro Football Focus, Hightower led all off-ball linebackers in total pressures over the past three seasons with 80. The loss is important from an on-field production and a locker-room leadership standpoint for Bill Belichick’s squad.
Hightower is the fifth Patriots player to opt out of the 2020 season. Running back Brandon Bolden will also not play in 2020, per Giardi. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran also opted out.
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