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How can the New England Patriots replace players that have opted out of the 2020 NFL season?

No team has been hit harder by players opting out of the 2020 NFL season due to concern over Covid-19 than the New England Patriots. More than 40 players have opted out league-wide, and eight of them are Patriots. Only one other single franchise has as many as three. New England was already staring into a season facing significant roster turnover, including losing the greatest quarterback ever to lace them up.

Of the eight Patriots to opt-out so far, three of them are significant losses that add further question marks to a roster already full of them: RT Marcus Cannon, LB Dont'a Hightower and S Patrick Chung.

[Editor’s Note: PFF’s advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

Cannon opens up a hole on the offensive line that may be tough to fill. The Patriots don’t have an obvious replacement in-house with Isaiah Wynn already expected to step into a starting role at left tackle. But four solid linemen and a question at right tackle should still make for a solid offensive line.

Cannon’s best season was back in 2016, when he posted an overall PFF grade of 86.6. Since then, he has had three solid years (one shortened by injury) and would be a consistent presence at right tackle if he were playing. Replacing him may not be easy, but it shouldn’t fundamentally change much in terms of how the team plays.

The spots on defense create far more fundamental problems. Hightower and Chung represent two key cogs in the Belichick machine that allows New England’s defense to match up with any threat it encounters in an opposing offense. Each player has a versatility that lets the defense as a whole shape-shift and adapt to whatever it is threatened by.

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