3 more NFL players opt out of season as COVID-19 outbreak strikes MLB

Jason Owens

As MLB deals with a COVID-19 outbreak, NFL players continue to opt out of the upcoming season.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday that New England Patriots linebacker and team captain Dont’a Hightower is choosing to opt out of the 2020 season, and Patriots RB Brandon Bolden is choosing to do the same. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler confirmed that Patriots OT Marcus Cannon was opting out on Monday night.

The Baltimore Ravens announced on Monday that wide receiver and return specialist De'Anthony Thomas has been added to the team’s reserve list as a voluntary opt-out. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports that Seattle Seahawks guard Chance Warmack and Cowboys corner back Maurice Canady will also exercise their options to opt out for the season.

New England Patriots fullback Danny Vitale is also opting out, according to his agent. As is Patriots guard Najee Toran, according to the Boston Globe. In total, five Patriots players have now opted out of the 2020 NFL season.

Meanwhile Washington defensive end Caleb Brantley was granted a “high-risk” opt-out, a designation that allows him to collect a $350,000 stipend and an accrued season. Players not granted the designation receive a $150,000 advance on their 2021 contracts and don’t accrue a season. Why Brantley was granted the waiver is not clear.

They all join Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who on Friday became the first NFL player to opt out of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The players who opted out Monday and Tuesday have not publicly spoken about their decisions.

MLB outbreak a warning for NFL?

The planned NFL season will face many of the same challenges as MLB, which was forced to postpone two games on Monday after at least 11 members of the Miami Marlins roster and coaching staff reportedly tested for COVID-19. The outbreak occurred just days into the start of the postponed baseball season, which saw its delayed opening day on Thursday.

De'Anthony Thomas won't play during the NFL's COVID-19 season. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
De'Anthony Thomas won't play during the NFL's COVID-19 season. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

MLB is moving forward with its season despite concerns that the outbreak would force it to consider canceling.

Like MLB, the NFL intends to conduct a season with a normal travel schedule that includes players and staff traveling to and from COVID-19 hotspots like Miami, Phoenix and Houston. There is no discussion in the NFL of playing in a bubble like the NBA and NHL, which are taking extra steps to mitigate exposure to the coronavirus.

Will players get another NFL shot?

Thomas, 27, split his time last season with the Ravens and Chiefs. The six-year NFL veteran played primarily as a kick and punt returner in 2019. Warmack, 28, signed with the Seahawks this offseason and was expected to compete for a backup job. The former No. 10 overall pick hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2018 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Canady, 26, played 13 games with the New York Jets and Ravens last season.

Duvernay-Tardif has started five straight seasons for the Chiefs and would appear to have a secure role in the NFL if and when he chooses to return. The same can’t be said for everyone else opting out.

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