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66 NFL players opt out

Lions defensive tackle John Atkins, right, tries to wrap up Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in Detroit on Nov. 17. Atkins is one of three Lions who have opted out this season. (AP file photo)

A total of 66 players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of them linemen.

Twenty offensive linemen and 11 on defense opted out before Thursday’s deadline. Players with a medical opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend, whole those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.

No team has come close to New England in losing players for the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 10 with Houston at Super Bowl champion Kansas City. The Patriots, already minus several stars who left in free agency — including, of course, Tom Brady to Tampa Bay — saw eight 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. Hightower, Cannon and Chung were key contributors in recent seasons.

Cleveland was next with five players skipping the season: defensive tackle Andrew Billings, tackle Drake Dorbeck and guards Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett, and Malcolm Pridgeon.

Only three teams had no one opting out: the Steelers, Falcons and Chargers.

“Those are not easy decisions to make as a player, especially when you love the game,” said 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.”

The rest of the breakdown by positions: 11 wide receivers; eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, three tights ends and safeties. The were no quarterbacks, kickers or punters opting out.

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.

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