BOSTON (CBS) — Another Patriots player is opting out of the 2020 season, and he’s a big one. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will not play this season.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was first to report news of Hightower opting out, which WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton has since confirmed. Later on Tuesday, Hightower shared a message on social media to explain his decision.

“This wasn’t an easy decision, or one I made lightly, but I do feel that it’s the best decision for my family at this time,” Hightower said. “I’m so grateful for the support of my teammates and coaches as well, and I will try to continue to lead and help as much as I can. 2020 has been a challenging year for our world. I hope you can all continue to be a light in these dark times — more light and great times are ahead. Thank you and stay safe!”

Hightower was scheduled to make $8 million this year, which would have been his ninth season with New England. He just became a father for the first time on July 16, and his mother, L’Tanya, has Type 2 diabetes, both of which likely led to his decision to opt out.

A three-time Super Bowl champ, Hightower has been one of New England’s defensive leaders since the team drafted him 25th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. He racked up 71 tackles in his 15 games played last season, and returned a fumble for his first touchdown since the 2012 season.

This will be a big blow to the New England defense, which also lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency. The Patriots did draft an inside linebacker in second rounder Josh Uche, who could find himself getting some immediate playing time in Hightower’s absence. Ja’Whaun Bentley, who had 44 combined tackles in his 16 games last season (two starts) will likely take over Hightower’s starting job on defense.

Hightower is now one of five Patriot players to opt out of 2020, joining right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale, offensive lineman Najee Toran and running back Brandon Bolden.

“Pats Nation, you have supported me unconditionally over the last eight years,” Hightower said. “Through Super Bowl victories (three of ’em!), season ending injuries, the occasional Boomtower TD, strip sacks, charity events and everything in between. I appreciate that support more than you know, and I appreciate that same support and understanding now more than ever.”

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