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AP photo by Nick Wass / New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, right, tackles Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. Hightower is one of eight Patriots who has opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to coronavirus concerns.

Sixty-six players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of them linemen — 20 on offense and 11 on defense.

Players with a medical opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend, while those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries. The deadline to opt out was 4 p.m. EDT Thursday.

No team has come close to the New England Patriots in losing players for the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 10 with the Houston Texans visiting the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the Super Bowl in February. The Patriots, already minus several stars who left in free agency — including, of course, veteran quarterback Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl champ now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — also lost eight players via opt outs: running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, tight end Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Marqise Lee, offensive lineman Najee Toran and fullback Dan Vitale. Cannon, Chung and Hightower were key contributors in recent seasons.

Cleveland was next with five players skipping the season for the Browns: defensive tackle Andrew Billings, offensive tackle Drake Dorbeck and offensive guards Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon. The Atlanta Falcons were one of only three teams with no one opting out — the Los Angeles Chargers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were the others — while the only Tennessee Titans player who opted out was Anthony McKinney, an offensive lineman who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU this past spring.

There were 11 wide receivers, eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, three tights ends and three safeties who opted out; no quarterbacks, kickers or punters did so.

"Those are not easy decisions to make as a player, especially when you love the game," said Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who will play this season. "But family will always come first. And I've had a lot of difficult conversations with my wife and, yeah, it's not ever going to be easy. Just like for the rest of America, it's not easy on anyone right now."

Should a player decide to walk away after Thursday's deadline because of a changed medical circumstance, he would get a stipend — unless he already exceeded the value of the stipend in the time he was active. Otherwise, there will be no financial compensation for voluntary future opt outs.

There also are salary cap relief machinations attached to opt outs. Contract bonus payments due to be applied to the cap in 2020 will be delayed a year even though the bonus has been paid.

Denver's Simmons saw two teammates, Kareem Jackson and Von Miller, contract COVID-19. Both are back and planning to play, which aided Simmons in deciding not to opt out.

"Speaking just in my family, my wife is the one that's the most nervous," he said, "and we understand everything going on with numbers and statistics. But just having conversations with guys like Kareem and Von, people that have had it and had to endure that and work through it. It's a scary time. And the reality is this is affecting a lot of families.

"And so, my wife and I have had really difficult conversations about opting out and what the season's going to look like. And do you really think measures are being taken that you guys are being cared for in the best way possible? And obviously I haven't seen a lot of the places around the NFL, but just being here you can really see the effort in the Denver facilities to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make sure we can play football in a safe manner."

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