BOSTON (AP)The number of New England Patriots who have decided to sit out the season because of concerns over the coronavirus continues to grow.
On Sunday, receiver Marqise Lee and tight end Matt LaCosse joined a list of six other Patriots players who have already declared their intentions to sit out this season.
Lee signed a one-year deal in April coming off two injury-filled seasons in Jacksonville. LaCosse is entering his second season in New England.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, tackles Marcus Cannon and Najee Toran, running back Brandon Bolden and fullback Danny Vitale previously opted out.
During a conference call with reporters Sunday, safety Devin McCourty criticized the NFL for reportedly considering moving up the deadline for players to make their decisions about the upcoming season.
”I think it’s an absolute joke that the NFL is changing the opt out period, mainly because they don’t want to continue to see guys opt out,” he said. ”I’m sure they’re shocked about how many guys have opted out. But it’s the same thing when we sign a (collective bargaining agreement), sometimes some of those things that we think are good sometimes backfire.”
McCourty declined to say whether he would play in 2020. But he said it was disingenuous for the league to expect players to make informed decisions with Monday marking the first time he and his Patriots teammates will fully experience the safety protocols that have been put in place at the team facility.
”So to act like guys are making a decision based on something other than virtual meetings is a joke,” he said. ”But I think it’s something that we go through as players and when players understand how much power we have, we’ve seen things change. Primarily on this deal with the COVID-19 and trying to get everything back we saw some of that strength.
”So we’ll see how everything turns out come Wednesday, if that ends up being the deadline.”
The league and the players’ union previously agreed that any player who decided not to play this season would get a $150,000 stipend if it is a voluntary move, and $350,000 if it is for preexisting medical reasons.
LaCosse’s decision marks the Patriots’ latest disruption at the position, which woefully underperformed last season after Rob Gronkowski initially retired after the 2018 season. LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo combined for just 36 receptions and two touchdowns in 2019.
Gronkowski never had fewer than three touchdowns in any of his nine seasons in New England and only had fewer than 36 catches once.
Running back James White said the glimpses of the Patriots facility that he has seen have been promising, with ”everything spaced out, giving everybody the right amount of distance between one another.”
He said the team will work to fill in the gaps, no matter how many more players that potentially decide not to play this season.
”The outlook doesn’t change whatsoever,” he said. ”We’ll come in here from Day 1, whenever we get into the building as a group and work extremely hard. … Every team has adjustments to make.”
NOTES: Linebacker Brandon King, running back Sony Michel and receiver Mohamed Sanu all were added to the team’s physically unable to perform list on Sunday. All three players currently count against the Patriots’ 80-player roster.
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