By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots took quite a hit this week when a half-dozen players made the decision to opt out of playing in the 2020 NFL season, due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Those players ranged from practice squad members (Najee Toran) to new free agents (Danny Vitale) to winners of multiple Super Bowls (Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Brandon Bolden), and the team will no doubt be worse without their services.
Despite the loss to the football team, head coach Bill Belichick said Friday that he fully understands and respects the decisions of those six players.
“I respect all of them and I respect all of the players on the team. We all have to make our decisions and, I talked to those guys and they explained their situations and they had to make the decision that was best for them and I totally respect it and support it 100 percent,” Belichick said.
While the six players opting out was the highest number for any one team across the league, it remains possible that more players could still decide to opt out before the deadline to do so. Belichick said he cannot predict if that might happen, but he nevertheless respects the decision made by anyone.
“I think everybody’s gotta make their own individual decisions on that. They have to weigh their own situation,” Belichick said. “Each one of us is unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments and so forth and so on. So there’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that. I have no way of — you know, my crystal ball is kind of cloudy right now. So I have no idea what will happen along those lines. I think everybody in the league, every team in the league, every player, every coach, everybody in the league is involved in that to some degree. So we’ll just have to see how it turns out.”
The loss of six players for the season will hardly be the only challenge facing the Patriots — and the rest of the NFL’s 32 teams as they show up for the most unique training camps of their lives. With no preseason games to get ready for the season, teams will need to work a little bit differently this summer as they ramp up their activity to be prepared physically and mentally for September.
Belichick said he feels like next week will be a combination of activity that usually takes place in March and April, as he gets new members of the team acclimated and up to speed. And while the loss of four preseason games will result in much less opportunity for evaluation, Belichick didn’t complain.
“We’ll just have to take advantage of our practice opportunities and create as much combination of competition to evaluate the players and also situations to get our players ready to play in regular-season games and combine those things as we go forward,” Belichick said. “So it’ll be a little different setup. But, you know, that’s what college teams do every year. I think ever since the beginning of college football back in … well, I don’t know about all the way back when Rutgers started in the 1870s. But that’s the way it’s been. You go to camp for three weeks and then you start the season and there are no preseason games and you evaluate your team and you get ready to play. That’s what all college football teams do. I don’t think it’s anything that’s revolutionary here. It’s just we haven’t done in that way in the National Football League for a while.”
Obviously, this summer will be unlike any that Belichick or his players have ever experienced. Yet the 68-year-old head coach summed it all up in a way that very much fit his well-known persona.
“I mean, this is just football. That’s all,” Belichick said. “I don’t really see anything differently.”