BOSTON (CBS) — Tuesday was a rough one at 1 Patriots Place, as the number of players to opt out of the 2020 season climbed from two to six. That list included some key contributors on defense (Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung), offense (Marcus Cannon), and special teams (Brandon Bolden), as well as a promising free-agent addition (Danny Vitale).

If the NFL can indeed pull off a 2020 season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, then the Patriots figure to be operating with some major holes on the roster.

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Or … is this all part of Bill Belichick’s master plan?

At least one anonymous NFL executive believes that to be the case.

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ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared his exchange with an NFL executive, who believed that somehow, some way, the half-dozen opt-outs in the span of about 18 hours is all part of some brilliant scheme devised by the NFL’s grandest schemer.

Whether that suspicion is based on some hunch or just plain paranoia, it speaks to the way Belichick is viewed around the league. Even when a seemingly bad trend is affecting the Patriots, opponents view it as some sneaky way to make the team better.

If the Patriots were to turn the rash of opt-outs into a positive, it could be done with all of the added salary cap space gained on Tuesday. The Patriots could sign a free agent for 2020 and/or rework and extend the contracts of players currently on the roster, with the plan of building the team for the long term instead of over-investing in a 2020 season that may not even happen.

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One way or the other, though, at least one NFL executive watched the Patriots lose a handful of starters and then decided that Belichick was playing some high-level chess.