COVID-19 is going to affect the NFL season in various ways, some that won’t be quantifiable. Can you really put a number on how much rookies were affected by the lack of an offseason or preseason?
There is one obvious way to measure how the pandemic is affecting teams, and that’s the opt-out list. It’s hard to blame any player who decided to sit out this season, but their absences will be felt by their respective teams.
The New England Patriots were hit hardest by the opt-outs. That’s not even debatable. Other teams will be affected, too, and here’s our list of the most affected teams by the opt-outs:
10. Miami Dolphins
Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson weren’t slated for huge roles for the Dolphins. But losing both receivers hits one position. If some injuries hit the Dolphins receivers, they could find themselves pretty thin there.
Devin Funchess was the only notable addition the Packers made to their receiving corps. Funchess, who will sit out this season, isn’t a top-end option, but the Packers don’t have much beyond Davante Adams. Funchess would have helped some.
Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder hasn’t lived up to the contract he signed after leaving the Patriots, but he was still a solid veteran option. When Solder, a cancer survivor, opted out, that left the Giants likely having to start rookies Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart at the tackle positions.
The Bills are built on defense, so losing nose tackle Star Lotulelei was a tough blow. Lotulelei is a big body in the middle and a key to the run defense. It’s hard to replace someone like that.
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce was the lone big free-agent addition the cap-strapped Vikings made this offseason. When Pierce, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, opted out of the season, that took away one high-priced veteran who could have helped make up for all of Minnesota’s losses over the offseason.
How much do the Bears value nose tackle Eddie Goldman? They signed him to a four-year, $42 million contract in 2018. Goldman is a crucial member of the Bears’ defense. The team is trying to rebound to its 2018 form, and that will be a challenge without Goldman.
The Broncos have built a good offense around second-year quarterback Drew Lock, but the offensive line was the question. The line suffered a big blow when right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who signed a four-year, $51 million free agent deal in 2019, opted out. That makes the Broncos’ tackle situation pretty shaky.
Arguably, the three most talented players on the Jets coming into the offseason were running back Le’Veon Bell, safety Jamal Adams and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley. Adams was traded after sparring with the team, Bell is still having an awkward relationship with coach Adam Gase and Mosley opted out of the season. Losing Mosley, a big-ticket free agent addition from the Ravens last season, hurts the defense up the middle.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
It might not matter because the Chiefs’ offense is loaded, but the defending champs lost two starters on that side of the ball. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a doctor, was the first NFL player to opt out. That hurts the line. Then running back Damien Williams, a Super Bowl hero for the team, decided he wouldn’t play either. The Chiefs drafted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, but Williams was a productive, reliable veteran and he would have helped the offense.
1. New England Patriots
No matter if you are measuring quantity or quality, there’s no doubt the Patriots lead this list. Key defensive starters Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower opted out. So did starting right tackle Marcus Cannon. Running back Brandon Bolden and fullback Danny Vitale might not be household names, but Bolden is a key special teams player and Vitale is valuable because the Patriots like to use the fullback. Offensive lineman Najee Toran, wide receiver Marqise Lee and tight end Matt LaCosse also opted out. The Patriots had already lost a lot in free agency, and the opt-out period hit them even harder.