Patriots: Does high opt-out rate in New England speak to Bill Belichick’s culture?

The New England Patriots have had six players opt out of the 2020 season, which is the most in the NFL.

After an offseason full of roster turnover highlighted by the departure of Tom Brady, the New England Patriots find themselves backed into a corner once again, but Superman Cam Newton can’t save them this time.

Perhaps Bill Belichick’s wizardry can, but is he the root of all of these issues to begin with? Relax, we’re not suggesting he’s caused any sort of rift, but is it possible that his style of coaching and the culture he’s instilled in New England isn’t exactly attractive to players in times like these?

When Brady and Rob Gronkowski left New England for Tampa, we’ve heard reports/rumors/outright statements from them suggesting “football is fun again.”

The bottom line is that, on top of losing key guys like Brady, Gronk, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ted Karras, and others, six more players — Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Danny Vitale, Brandon Bolden and Najee Toran — opted out of this coming season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Playing under these circumstances is already difficult enough, given what we’ve already seen happen in Major League Baseball. And when you throw in the elements of the game of football (heavy contact sport with 22 players on the field at all times) and the fact that the NFL is moving forward with the same travel schedule (sans international games), perhaps some players might not want to take the risk AND not have fun doing so.

This isn’t anything new. Previous players have called out the Patriots and Belichick, so the organization and style isn’t for everyone … that’s just the way life works when you have 53 people on a team. All of those minds/personalities aren’t going to mesh.

Belichick is a tough coach to play for, but that’s why he’s the best in history. He’s well known for setting guys straight, keeping his team in order, devising complex game plans, and benching players (regardless of stature) if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

However, we can’t rule out that the same coaching style and stringent culture doesn’t also contribute to others being dissatisfied or not wanting to lay it all on the line for the team during a high-risk campaign.

Vitale and Toran decided to sit out because of their concerns about the virus; Chung cited the health of his family for a multitude of reasons; Hightower has a two-week-old child; Cannon is a cancer survivor; and we’ve yet to know Bolden’s reasoning, though we can assume it’s similar to Vitale’s and Toran’s.

With Cannon and Hightower likely falling under the “high-risk” category of players, this is a theory to consider especially if the other four guys don’t once we learn more about their situations.