BOSTON (CBS) — The 2020 season was a rough one for the New England Patriots. The biggest difference on the roster was going from Tom Brady to Cam Newton at quarterback, but New England was also hit hard when it came to opt-outs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Patriots had eight players opt out of the season, more than any other team in the NFL. That included some pretty important members of the team like linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and running back/special teamer Brandon Bolden.

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The good news is that Devin McCourty believes they’ll all be back in the fold in 2021.

“From my understanding, they’ll all be back,” the Patriots veteran safety told NBC Sports’ Tom E. Curran for his Patriots Talk Podcast on Friday. “B. Bolden, High, Chung. So I can’t wait. Those are my guys — Cannon [too].

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“I just can’t wait to be back around those guys,” he added. “Even outside of football, seeing them every day, seeing their nice faces.”

Obviously, McCourty’s statement doesn’t set a return for those players in stone. But he’s pretty close with all of them, so he likely has a little inside info on their intentions.

Hightower’s return should be a big lift to the New England linebacking corps, which relied on Ja’Whaun Bentley and rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to carry the load in 2020. Adding a veteran presence like Hightower to that mix should improve the position greatly in 2021, as would adding a veteran like Chung alongside Kyle Dugger at safety.

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In addition to the four players mentioned by McCourty, fullback Danny Vitale, receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Matt LaCosse and guard Najee Toran also opted out of the 2020 season.