When the deadline passed on Thursday afternoon, a total 67 NFL players had officially opted out of the 2020 season due to their concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Three Kansas City Chiefs were among them, including two offensive linemen and a running back. We’ll touch on how those losses could affect the team’s season — but first, let’s see how other teams around the league are in a position to benefit (or struggle) in the strangest season of our lifetimes.
The team with the most opt outs: After losing their long-time quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, few teams were headed into 2020 with more question marks than the New England Patriots — and then came COVID-19. Eight Patriots have opted out — more than any other team — including a couple of significant names. Versatile defensive leaders like linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung will sit out the season, along with special teams contributor Brandon Bolden and two other players who could have been in the mix to be starters: tight end Matt LaCosse and fullback Danny Vitale. Don’t bet against Bill Belichick, who has shown a remarkable ability to adapt, reload and reinvent the Patriots. But 2020 may be his biggest challenge yet.
The team with the most impactful player opting out: New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley signed an $85 million contract just a year ago — and was expected to be the centerpiece of their defense. But last season, he played only two games for the Jets before a groin injury sent him to injured reserve. Now, Mosley has opted out of 2020 — and after trading star safety Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets will have to find a way to replace their two best defensive players. Things are not looking good around MetLife stadium.
One of the league’s best defenses: The Buffalo Bills lost only two players to opt outs, but both were set to be contributors. Star Lotulelei has been one of the anchors of their defensive front since signing a five-year, $50 million contract back in 2018. Cornerback E.J. Gaines re-signed after injuries cost him all of 2019, but Bills fans will now have to wait yet another year to see him on the field. Buffalo will still have one of the league’s best defenses, but in a season where depth may matter more than ever, theirs has taken a significant hit.
Big uglies across the league: It’s logical that the guys who are in close contact with one another on every play face the highest risk of transmitting COVID-19 to each other, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the list of opt-outs is tilted toward the big guys; roughly half of them are either offensive or defensive linemen. There are some significant names on the offensive side — including Laurent Duvernay-Tardif of the Chiefs, Nate Solder of the New York Giants, Ja’Wuan James of the Denver Broncos and Chance Warmack of the Seahawks. With offensive line play being down in recent years, many teams will struggle to find suitable replacements up front.
Teams with no opt-outs: The Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, and Atlanta Falcons get an advantage: their competition loses depth — while they have their full rosters available to them. But whether any of these teams can actually use this to their advantage is yet to be seen.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif; The NFL’s first player to opt out did so for the best possible reason: the Canadian doctor decided to devote himself to saving others. For that, we all owe him a debt of gratitude and respect. If he so chooses, he’ll have a chance to regain his job with the Chiefs next season — but in life, he’s a winner either way.
The Super Bowl champions: In Duvernay-Tardif, the Chiefs lost their likely starter at right guard — along with presumed starting running back Damien Williams and rookie offensive lineman Lucas Niang, who was expected to “red shirt” the 2020 season anyway. But they immediately added a potential upgrade at guard by signing veteran Kelechi Osemele — and had already acquired a potential upgrade at running back when they drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire. So the opt-out impact to the Chiefs is minimal — and in fact, they might actually be better.
Young players across the league: With so many veterans opting out, there will be a chance for more undrafted free agents (and other young players) to earn roster spots and playing time. The Chiefs will certainly get Edwards-Helaire involved early and often, boosting his stock on the field — and for fantasy football owners, too. 67 roster spots just opened up across the league, which could provide opportunities for the next wave of stars — perhaps serving to offset those lost with the cancellation of the preseason.