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Patriots Reportedly Get Huge Boost Heading Into 2021 Season

Patrick Chung of the Patriots walks off the field after injuring his arm in the Super Bowl.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 03: Patrick Chung #23 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after sustaining an injury in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

No team was hit harder with 2020 COVID-19 season opt outs than the New England Patriots.

With a league-high eight players sitting out the year due to virus concerns, the most notable names came on the defensive side of the ball. Long-time Patriot veterans Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung left some gaping holes in the usually-stellar New England defense.

According to

Free agency hasn’t started, but the #Patriots are already getting some reinforcements. Their key opt-outs from 2020 — including LB Dont'a Hightower, S Patrick Chung, and OT Marcus Cannon — are planning to be back for 2021, sources say. Physically, all are in a good place.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2021

"> NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, the franchise will return these players and more from the COVID-19 opt-out list in 2021. Along with Hightower and Chung, starting offensive tackle Marcus Cannon will also play next season. Despite not playing in a game since the 2019 season, all the returners are reportedly in good physical shape.

With Tom Brady leaving the franchise and Cam Newton taking over at the starting QB position, the COVID-19 opt outs were often an afterthought for critics of the Patriots' disappointing 7-9 season.

Part of this oversight could also be the fact that New England's defense wasn't exactly the issue. Despite missing two of its veteran leaders, the Pats defensive unit ranked No. 7 in NFL total yards allowed (5,660). The offense on the other hand ranked among the leagues lowest in total yards gained (5,236).

Hightower and Chung combined for 122 tackles in 2019. In his eighth NFL season, Hightower notched his second Pro Bowl selection.

While the offense still may have some unanswered questions, the Patriots defense should be a force in 2021.