The New England Patriots have had an eventful 24 hours. Not only are they attempting to navigate a season which will see them start a new quarterback for the first time in nearly two decades, they are now faced with losing valuable members of their roster amidst concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Having already sustained five roster losses as of Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported that safety Patrick Chung has also elected to opt out of the 2020 season.
The 32-year-old Chung becomes the sixth member of the Patriots to use the opt-out, as was provided by the NFL-NFLPA Coronavirus agreement, reached last week. He is also the third New England starter to do so, following linebacker Dont’a Hightower and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon. Running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran have also decided to opt on the side of caution, thus sitting out the 2020 campaign over concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Chung’s decision to voluntarily opt out is surprising, yet not necessarily shocking. Earlier this offseason, he had agreed to a two year contract extension, thus remaining under contract with the Patriots through the 2023 season. However, as Chung pointed out just days ago during his appearance on the “Double Coverage” podcast (hosted by teammates Devin and Jason McCourty) he is once again an expectant father. He also reportedly considered retiring from the game at one point earlier this year.
The Patriots secondary has largely been considered to be the strongest component of their defense; a unit that was ranked at-or-near the top of the NFL in 2019. Following the departure of safety Duron Harmon, the team drafted safety Kyle Dugger in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They also added veterans Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis via free agency. The Patriots will now likely turn to their offseason acquisitions to fill the void created by Chung’s opt-out. Phillips, and possibly Dugger, appear to be the frontrunners to take over the starting spot opposite veteran Devin McCourty.
As the Patriots look to regroup from what has been a tumultuous few hours, Jeff Howe of The Athletic offered some cautiously optimistic hope. He reported just after noon time on Tuesday that the Patriots believe Chung’s decision would mark the end of the opt-outs. Howe was careful, however, in indicating that this remains a “Fluid situation.” Players’ feelings are subject to change, as test results are received within the ensuing days.
As is frequently said by this columnist, it would be wise to keep a ‘sharp eye’ on Foxboro in the coming hours, days and weeks.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC