Reports: Patriots LB Hightower, Bears DT Goldman join opt-out list

New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and running back Brandon Bolden are joining the list of players opting out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus, multiple outlets reported Tuesday.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Bears starting defensive tackle Eddie Goldman informed the team he was opting out, while NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will as well.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported free agent guard Larry Warford, who was recently released by the New Orleans Saints, will opt out despite drawing offers from several teams.

Also opting out, per NFL Network, are Minnesota Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Andre Smith and Houston Texans defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.

Bill Belichick
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Multiple outlets reported that Green Bay Packers receiver Devin Funchess also was opting out.

The NFL Players Association announced Tuesday that 21 players had tested positive for COVID-19 since reporting for training camps began last week, bringing the total of positive tests this offseason to 107. The number is expected to climb this week, with most players reporting to teams on Tuesday and set to take multiple tests over the next few days before participating in any activities.

Per the NFLPA, seven teams still have their infectious disease emergency response (IDER) plans under review: Atlanta, Los Angeles Chargers, New England, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

Hightower, 30, is a three-time Super Bowl champ and two-time Pro Bowl selection who has played in 102 games (99 starts) since the Patriots made him a first-round pick in 2012. He has 505 tackles and 25.5 sacks.

“Me and my fiancee are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower, who has a newborn son, told Rapoport.

Chung, who turns 33 in August and whose wife is expecting a baby, reportedly considered retirement this offseason before signing a two-year extension through 2023 in May. An 11-year veteran, he has spent 10 seasons with the Patriots (2009-12, 2014-19), winning three Super Bowls while playing 141 games for the club.

Bolden, 30, has earned two Super Bowl rings with New England. In 114 games with the Patriots (2012-17, 2019) and Miami Dolphins (2018), he has rushed for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Patrick Chung
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Hightower, Chung and Bolden bring the Patriots’ total of players opting out to at least six, along with offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran.

The window to opt out will be one week long, but it hasn’t officially opened yet, as language in a CBA side letter is still being finalized. Once that letter is final, the one-week period will begin.

NFL Network reports that “dozens” of players have already informed teams they are opting out.

Players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn a $350,000 stipend and an accrued NFL season if they decide to opt out. Players without risk can receive $150,000, according to the agreement approved last week by the league and the NFL Players Association, although the voluntary opt-out stipend is solely an advance toward future salary. The stipend is not available to undrafted rookies.

Goldman and Pierce are both reportedly high-risk opt outs.

Goldman, 26, has 12.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 67 career games (63 starts) with the Bears since being a second-round pick in 2015.

Lotulelei, 30, has 13.5 sacks and 32 TFLs in 108 career games (107 starts) for the Bills (2018-19) and Carolina Panthers (2013-17) since being a first-round pick in 2013.

Pierce, 27, joined the Vikings on a three-year, $27 million contract in March after four years with the Ravens, with whom he totaled 151 tackles (13 for loss) and 3.5 sacks.

Michael Pierce
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Warford, 29, is a three-time Pro Bowler who was released in May. It’s unclear how his status as a free agent will affect his opt-out, as to whether or not he will receive a stipend, or whether he could change his mind after the deadline.

Goodwin, 29, joined the Eagles via trade this offseason. He and his wife have a daughter who was born in February after multiple miscarriages, and Goodwin said he is “choosing my family first.”

Dallas Cowboys undrafted rookie wide receiver Stephen Guidry also opted out. He joins Cowboys cornerback Maurice Canady as the team’s first players to opt out.

Broncos defensive tackle Kyle Peko will be a high-risk opt out. Other opt outs include Saints veteran tight end Cole Wick, and Titans undrafted rookie offensive lineman Anthony McKinney.

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)