Patriots’ opt-outs about health and family, not Tom Brady or football

By WEEI 93.7

Earlier this week a half-dozen Patriots – including key, respected veterans Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and Marcus Cannon – decided they were going to opt out of the 2020 NFL season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty it created with a return to the football field.

It was, likely, a difficult decision for all six guys trying to prioritize family, finances and football, especially the three notable veterans. Cannon is a cancer survivor. Hightower and his wife welcomed their first child into this crazy world barely two weeks ago. Chung has a child on the way.

In the end, all three as well was veteran running back Brandon Bolden, fullback newcomer Dan Vitale and practice squad offensive lineman Najee Toran, decided the risk of returning to work in a non-bubble NFL training camp environment and a professional sports world that saw the Miami Marlins shutdown this week amidst an 18-person coronavirus outbreak just wasn’t worth it. As family men, the rewards of a big paycheck and getting back to the sport that’s the heart of their financial and professional lives weren’t enough to dismiss the health dangers to themselves or their loved ones.

Seemingly simply put, New England’s players, as well as handfuls of others across the NFL, chose family over finances and football.

Not everyone, though, took the players’ decisions at face value or even at their word.

In a reaction that’s as curious as it is disrespectful to the players in question, NBC Sports Boston tied together the players opting out of playing this season during a pandemic to Tom Brady’s spring decision to use his free agent freedom to move on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NBC essentially connected the dots to conclude that with Brady still in Foxborough the Patriots would have a better chance to win and therefor the players would have more reason to play rather than opt out in 2020.

“His former teammates are smart enough to know that, with Brady on their side, they had a fighting chance,” NBC Boston wrote. “Stay home and stay safe or play on a team that’s looking really mediocre after two decades of dominance? Kind of an easy choice.”

First of all, given Brady’s physical and emotional decline in 2019, that point is debatable.

But even if we accept the debatable notion that the Patriots would be a better team in 2020 with Brady than might be the case with Cam Newton (or Jarrett Stidham, we’ll pretend he might win the job!) under center, it’s impossible to overstate how incredibly disrespectful the idea is to the players that opted out and the reasons behind their decision that some have shared publicly.

So, because the Patriots may be say an 8-8 team this year, the players decided it wasn’t worth the risk to themselves or their family to play?

If New England were a more talented team projected to win 14 games it would make it worth putting themselves and their families at risk?

That’s hard to fathom from afar. It’s even harder to presume publicly without at least a hint of evidence.

Is this also a scenario that only exists in New England? Because the entire world thinks the Chiefs have a great chance to repeat as Super Bowl champs behind the leadership of superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Yet Kansas City has already lost a pair of starters to coronavirus-related opt-outs in guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams. A lack of confidence in their quarterback or their team couldn’t possibly have been a motivation for their opt-outs.

It’s a weird, tough time for all of us. We make risk-vs.-reward choices all the time. We try to balance our responsibilities to our jobs, families and communities. Maybe we don’t always make the right decision.

Six Patriots players tip-toed through that balance this week and made the tough call to opt-out of the 2020.

It certainly seemed like a responsible decision made with the health and well-being of themselves and their families in mind.

Even in the bottom-line world of professional sports and the Bill Belichick-driven, team-first Patriots dynasty, not everything has to do with Brady and winning.

Hard as it might be for some to imagine, there actually is more to this world than that.