The 2020 NFL season is set to kick off on September 10, with the Texans visiting the Chiefs on “Thursday Night Football.” The NFL has held steadfast that the upcoming campaign will occur as scheduled, but not every player will be joining their respective teams. Part of the NFLPA’s agreement with the league allows players to opt out of the season if they are uncomfortable due to coronavirus concerns or fall into a "high risk" category. The reigning Super Bowl champions saw their longtime starting guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, be the first player to decide to skip this season, and his absence will be felt. Who else has decided to sit out this season?
Offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert missed all of last season with a knee injury after the Cardinals acquired him in a trade with the Steelers in March 2019. Injuries have plagued Gilbert his entire career, as he has played in just 12 games since 2017 and has played a full 16-game slate just twice since he entered the league in 2011 as a second-round pick. He also received a PEDs-related suspension in 2017. The Cardinals will likely hold a competition between rookie Josh Jones and Justin Murray to see who will end up protecting Kyler Murray’s blindside.
Offensive lineman Andre Smith joined the Ravens in January 2020 as a depth signing, then inked a one-year extension with the team in February. He would have been a depth lineman this season as well. But the Ravens will have to look for depth elsewhere after his opt-out.
The Ravens confirmed the opt-out of De’Anthony Thomas, who worked as a return specialist for Baltimore last season, appearing in nine games for the team as a midseason pickup. Thomas averaged 23.7 yards per return in the Ravens’ postseason matchup against the Titans.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been a starter for the Bills for the past two seasons after spending the first five campaigns of his career in Carolina. The former first-round pick was on the field for nearly half of the Bills’ regular-season snaps. Along with 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver, Buffalo signed Quinton Jefferson and Vernon Butler to two-year contracts this past offseason, so they might see more action this season in the wake of Lotulelei’s opt-out.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines is on his second stint with the Bills. The former sixth-round pick has an unfortunate record with injuries, missing two full seasons throughout his career. The Bills placed him on injured reserve with a core muscle injury before the 2019 even started. He’s played in 43 games (38 starts) and racked up 198 tackles, 33 passes defensed and four interceptions. He may have peaked his rookie year, when he accumulated 70 tackles and 14 passes defensed. With his best years behind him, he would likely have been a rotation piece for the Buffalo secondary. The Bills still have Josh Norman and Tre’Davious White, and they signed Akeem King to bolster depth behind their starters.
Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman has been a standout on the Bears D-line since they drafted him in the second round of the 2015 draft. He plays on approximately half of the Bears’ defensive snaps each season; although, his stats (29 tackles, one sack in 2019) don’t tell the full story of his worth and why the Bears chose to ink him to a four-year, $42 million extension in September 2018. Chicago does have a lot of depth on its defensive line, and Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris are candidates to replace Goldman.
Nose tackle Josh Tupou has been with the Bengals for all three seasons of his career. In 2019, he had 27 tackles and a fumble recovery over 16 games (seven starts). WIth Tupou’s opt-out, the Bengals lose a player who was used as a key rotation piece on the D-line.
Cornerback Maurice Canady signed with the Cowboys in free agency after splitting last season between the Jets and Ravens. Over 13 games last season, Canady racked up 37 tackles, five passes defensed, an interception and a fumble recovery. Canady would have provided depth for the Cowboys, who are pretty stacked at cornerback. They added the highly touted Trevon Diggs in the second round of the draft.
Right tackle Ja'Wuan James was hoping his 2020 season would go better than last year, as he was able to play in only three games after suffering a knee injury in Week 1. The 2014 first-round pick last played a full 16-game season in 2018, as a member of the Dolphins. He has started all 65 games he’s played in at right tackle. Now the Broncos will need to figure out who will protect Drew Lock's blindside. After James went down last year, Elijah Wilkinson started in his place. It appears the starting RT job is Wilkinson's to lose.
Wide receiver Geronimo Allison signed with the Lions during free agency after spending all four years of his career with NFC North rival Green Bay. During that time, he caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards and six touchdowns over 46 games (14 starts). Adding Allison was a low-risk scenario for the Lions, as they got him for the veteran’s minimum. He would have provided Detroit depth behind Danny Amendola, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. The Lions also drafted former Wisconsin wideout Quintez Cephus in the fifth round. The Cephus caught 59 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns in his last year with the Badgers.
Center Russell Bodine has started all 64 games he’s appeared in throughout his career. Although, he didn’t play at all last season after getting released by the Patriots ahead of New England’s Week 1 contest. Bodine likely would have been a depth piece for the Lions. Frank Ragnow has been Detroit’s starting center for the past two seasons, and the Lions also have Beau Benzschawel on their roster as a backup.
Packers wide receiver Devin Funchess joined Green Bay on a one-year deal this offseason after suffering a collarbone injury early in the season in Indianapolis. The former second-round pick out of Michigan was hoping to revitalize his career by catching passes from Aaron Rodgers in Matt LaFleur’s high-octane offense. He was the most high-profile addition made to the team’s wide receiver corps. The Pack infamously chose to forgo selecting a wideout in the draft, and they also lost Geronimo Allison in free agency. Davante Adams is still a stud, but there’s no doubt that not having a true No. 2 wideout will hurt.
Defensive tackle Al Woods signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars this offseason. He was coming off the best season of his career with the Seahawks, racking up 32 tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries over 14 games (five starts). The rebuilding Jaguars are unlikely to contend this season. That said, they drafted Ohio State DT DaVon Hamilton in the third round and have a half-dozen defensive tackles on their roster.
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was set to be a starter for Jacksonville this season. The Jaguars’ once-vaunted secondary will likely be one of the team’s weaknesses this season. Ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson and D.J. Hayden are projected to be the starters, but the rookie is clearly under pressure to get up to speed quickly.
Duvernay-Tardif was the first NFL player to announce his decision to skip this upcoming season, but he was certainly not the last. The 29-year-old guard has been working as an orderly in a long-term care facility in Canada since the pandemic began, as he has a medical degree from McGill University. In his announcement, Duvernay-Tardif said, “If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.” He has been the Chiefs’ starting right guard for the past five seasons, and in the wake of his opt-out, K.C. signed Kelechi Osemele as a replacement.
Star running back Damien Williams was the Chiefs’ hero in their Super Bowl win over the 49ers, as he scored two touchdowns to help them to victory. The Chiefs are supportive of his decision, and general manager Brett Veach said Williams made the choice “in the best interest of his family.” Losing Williams’ production will be a tough pill to swallow for the Chiefs, but they selected former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick in the 2020 draft. He will likely see more touches this season in the wake of Williams’ opt-out.
Offensive tackle Lucas Niang was the Chiefs’ third-round pick of this year’s draft. Niang is the second Chiefs offensive lineman to opt out of this season following Laurent Duvernay-Tardif’s announcement that he would skip the campaign. The TCU product’s decision to sit out leaves the Chiefs thinner along the offensive line.
Wide receiver Allen Hurns was the first Dolphins player to opt out . Hurns played in 14 games (seven starts) last season, his first in Miami, and caught 32 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins will go forward with DeVante Parker as WR1. The Fish also have Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford and Preston Williams (who is recovering from a torn ACL), among others, on their depth chart.
Wide receiver Albert Wilson has appeared in just 20 games (seven starts) for the Dolphins since signing a three-year deal with Miami in 2018. Wilson missed more than half of the 2018 season with a hip injury, and he was not the player he once was upon his return in 2019. Wilson’s opt-out leaves the Dolphins a bit thin at that position, as fellow wideout Allen Hurns has also opted out. The Dolphins have Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford and Preston Williams (who suffered a torn ACL last season), among others, on their roster.
The Vikings signed nose tackle Michael Pierce to a three-year, $27 million deal in March to replace Linval Joseph, who joined the Chargers in free agency. Pierce, an undrafted free agent, spent all four years of his career in Baltimore, where he racked up 151 tackles and four fumble recoveries over 60 games (30 starts), and was Minnesota’s biggest free-agency signing. Pierce told the Pioneer Press that he would be skipping the season due to his history of respiratory problems, including asthma and a bout of pneumonia. In light of Pierce’s opt-out , it is more important than ever that the Vikings re-sign Everson Griffen, who remains a free agent.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and his fiancee welcomed a baby this offseason, which he cited as the primary reason he decided to opt out. He has been a mainstay of the Patriots defense since the team drafted him in the first round in 2012, and he was a key part of their historic D last season. The two-time Pro Bowler’s absence will be felt. Although New England is good at finding diamonds in the rough, it will be tough for the team to find someone to fill Hightower’s shoes.
Safety Patrick Chung has spent 10 seasons of his vaunted 11-year career in New England, accumulating 719 tackles, 54 passes defensed and 11 interceptions over the course of that decade. In May, the Patriots signed him to a two-year extension, and it will toll to next season with his opt-out. Chung told “CBS This Morning” (h/t NESN’s Zack Cox) he decided to opt out for personal reasons, as he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby, and his son has asthma. His absence is a big hole for the Patriots defense, as Belichick and Co. will have to figure out a way to replace his 600-plus snaps.
Wide receiver Marquise Lee was entering his first season with the Patriots after spending the first five years of his career with the Jaguars. The former second-round pick never lived up to expectations for the Jags, but injuries plagued his time in Duval. Lee’s best season came in 2016, when he caught 63 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the disappointment, the Patriots signed him as a low-risk, high-reward option, and the team has a long history of getting the best out of wideouts. The Pats’ wide receiver depth chart is led by Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon has been a starter on the Patriots offensive line for the past two seasons. His opt-out is of the “high-risk” variety, as he is a cancer survivor. He underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011.
Fullback Danny Vitale signed with the Patriots this offseason after spending the previous two campaigns in Green Bay. The Pats were in the market for a new fullback after James Develin retired in April. Vitale’s opt-out leaves another hole in the Patriots’ questionable offense.
Tight end Matt LaCosse is now the eighth Patriot to opt out of the season. LaCosse played in 11 games (eight starts) for New England last season, catching 13 passes for 131 yards and one TD. He would have been a veteran presence in the tight end room for rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, whom the Pats selected in the third round of the draft. Their selections look a lot better now than during draft weekend.
Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder’s opt-out falls into the “high-risk” category. In the statement he released , he cites his young son’s cancer battle as well as his own cancer history. He also welcomed a baby boy this offseason. Solder was diagnosed with testicular cancer prior to the 2014 season. The Giants have had a notoriously bad O-line for some time now, but they drafted former Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas with their first-round pick this year. This selection figures to be more important than ever in the wake of Solder’s opt-out.
Cornerback Sam Beal played in just six games last year with various injuries, and he missed his whole rookie season due to a shoulder injury. The Giants were high on Beal after selecting him in the 2018 Supplemental Draft and were hoping he could be a potential starter. The Giants have James Bradberry, who signed a three-year deal with Big Blue during free agency. But with DeAndre Baker on the Commissioner’s Exempt list due to a July incident in Florida, there’s no doubt the Giants’ cornerback depth is a bit thin.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley signed with the Jets during free agency ahead of the 2019-20 season. He suffered a groin injury in the Jets’ season opener, which caused him to miss all but two games. After he left that contest, the Jets defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed. Gang Green was hoping he would be the quarterback of the defense now that he has fully recovered, and there is simply no replacing a player of Mosley’s caliber. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also recently lost Jamal Adams to a trade (though he gained Bradley McDougald in the deal), so there's no question the Jets defense will take a step back this season.
Wide receiver Josh Doctson signed with New York in free agency. The Jets haven’t had a decent wide receiving corps in years, and the former first-round pick was brought on for depth. Aside from Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman, Gang Green drafted Denzel Mims in the second round — clearly not an impressive group. Head coach Adam Gase ought to think about getting running back Le’Veon Bell involved in the passing game; although, he was reluctant to do so last season. The team no longer has Robby Anderson (signed with Carolina in free agency) or Quincy Enunwa, who was released after playing in just 12 games over the past three seasons due to various injuries.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was traded to the Eagles, then signed a one-year, $1.35 million deal after spending the three previous seasons in San Francisco. As a member of the 49ers, Goodwin caught 91 receptions for 1,543 yards and seven TDs over 36 regular-season games (30 starts). The Eagles have had issues with their wide receiver corps of late. They tried to address this by drafting TCU wideout Jalen Reagor with their first-round pick, but that selection didn’t blow anyone away. Philly also lost Nelson Agholor in free agency, though he is a notorious dropper. The Eagles have DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward, among others, on their WR depth chart.
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin was hoping to ounce back after losing most of the 2019 season to injury. There was an opportunity for Benjamin to carve out a decent role with the 49ers offense considering the team lost Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. The 49ers selected Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the 2020 draft, and that pick looks more important now. He’ll likely see an even bigger role now, though most of the 49ers’ offensive firepower comes from running back Raheem Mostert and tight end George Kittle.
It’s a voluntary opt-out for offensive guard Chance Warmack, who signed a one-year deal with Seattle in March, but his Seahawks debut will wait a year. The former No. 10 overall pick did not play at all last season. He likely would have been a depth lineman for the Seahawks this season, rather than a starter.
Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley will have a “high-risk” opt-out, so he will be eligible for a $350,000 stipend and see his contract toll a season. Brantley has been with Washington for two seasons, but he has appeared in only eight games due to injury problems.
Larry Warford is a three-time Pro Bowler, but he never landed with a team this offseason after getting released by the Saints in May. Good, steady offensive linemen are hard to come by, so had he not opted out, he likely would have found a new team by the start of the regular season. No doubt being out of action for a season will hurt his free-agency status next year, Warford should be able to get a decent contract in the future.
Here is a list of lesser-known AFC players who have decided to opt out:
Here is a list of lesser-known NFC players who are opting out: