Dont’a Hightower’s Return: Patriots Captain Gives Update on Opt-Out Players

Getty Donta Hightower

The New England Patriots had an NFL-high 8 players opt-out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns about COVID-19. According to Patriots star and team captain Devin McCourty, it would appear all of the team’s opt-outs are on track to return to the team for the 2021 season.

McCourty spoke with Tom Curran on Patriots Talk Friday and said, “from my understanding, they’ll all be back — B. [Brandon] Bolden, High [Dont’a Hightower], [Patrick] Chung, so I can’t wait. Those are my guys. [Marcus] Cannon.”

Here is a list of the other Patriots players who also opted out.

  • FB – Danny Vitale
  • WR – Marqise Lee
  • TE – Matt LaCosse
  • OL – Najee Toran

Lee has already indicated he is expecting to play in 2021 after signing a one-year deal with the Patriots ahead of the 2020 season. Vitale, who also signed a one-year pact has given off the same vibes. While those 2 players could certainly add value to the Patriots’ offense, the guys McCourty mentioned are the real needle-movers.

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Missing Hightower

Of all the players who opted out of the season, no one was more missed than Hightower. New England missed his presence as a second-level tackler, the quarterback of their defense, a capable blitzer, and his overall leadership.

While Ja’Whuan Bentley and Terez Hall did their best to fill in for Hightower in his absence, neither of them compared to what the 2-time Pro-Bowler and 3-time Super Bowl champion bring to the defense.

Hightower is 30 and turns 31 in March. There were some rumors about him potentially retiring. However, if he is returning to the NFL in 2021, it might mean the Patriots won’t have to make inside linebacker as high of a priority in the draft, or perhaps in free agency.

If and when Hightower officially announces his intentions to play in 2021, it will be like the equivalent of receiving news on a strong veteran free-agent signing for the Patriots’ roster.

Missing Chung

While the Patriots’ secondary continued to be a strong point of the team’s roster in 2020, it could have still benefited from the physical, hybrid-style play Chung has delivered throughout his time with the organization.

Chung will be 34 by the time the 2021 season starts, and there isn’t as much of a guarantee that he’ll be back, or that he will be capable of performing on the same level. Some would argue his play has already slipped in the past couple of seasons compared to what he’d done in previous years. In 2019, he had no interceptions for the first time since 2015, and his production across the board was down.

Injuries have been a problem for Chung at times, but not counting the 2020 season because of the rare situation COVID presented, the 3-time Super Bowl champion has missed a total of just 5 games in the last 6 years. That’s noteworthy durability, and if nothing else, Chung’s return could add depth to the safety-linebacker position the Patriots like to run. Chung has proven physical enough to perform well in this role in the past.

Hopefully, we’ll begin to hear official declarations about 2021 in the next month or so.


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