Growing list of NFL players reportedly opting out of 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns

Several NFL players have opted out of participating in the 2020 season, adding their names to a growing list of athletes who have cited concerns for their own health amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A person familiar with the situation says New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower has decided to opt out of the 2020 season.

RELATED: NFL commissioner announces cancellation of 2020 preseason games over coronavirus concerns 

Hightower’s decision was made out of concern for the health of his fiancée and child, who was born earlier this month, the person said.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Patriots have not announced the decision. ESPN was the first to report the move.

Two other people told the AP that starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and fullback Danny Vitale have also chosen to sit out the season, citing health concerns.

Cannon is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during his final season at Texas Christian University in 2011. Vitale has a young family and doesn't want to risk exposing them, according to the sources.

The NFL and the players association agreed last week to an opt-out clause for the upcoming season. Those who choose to voluntarily sit out will receive a $150,000 stipend and those with medical opt outs will receive $350,000 rather than their contractual salary.

RELATED: At least 3 MLB games postponed amid Marlins’ virus outbreak 

Hightower has been a staple of New England's defense since being drafted in the first round in 2012, helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls. The two-time Pro Bowler signed a four-year, $35.5 million contract in 2017. He was scheduled to make an $8 million base salary this season.

His absence is the latest blow to a Patriots linebacking group that saw key contributors Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts leave the team in free agency.

Cannon has been a regular on the offensive line since 2016 and missed just one game in 2019. He played 88% of the offensive snaps last season. He was scheduled to make $4.7 million this season.

That leaves the Patriots somewhat thin at the tackle spot. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn has missed all but eight games since being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.

The only other tackles on the roster are 2019 draft pick Yodny Cajuste, 2020 sixth-rounder Justin Herron and veteran Korey Cunningham, who appeared in only one game for New England last season.

RELATED: 49ers' Richard Sherman predicts NFL will forge ahead if team has Marlins-like coronavirus outbreak

The Patriots were hoping Vitale, who was signed in March after being cut by the Packers, would help fill the void left following James Develin's decision to retire in the offseason.

Though NFL veterans can officially begin reporting to training camp Tuesday, the Patriots say their players are not reporting until this upcoming weekend.

Two people with direct knowledge of the decision have also confirmed to The Associated Press that Buffalo Bills starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is voluntarily opting out from playing this season.

The people spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the team has not revealed this information as players reported for the start of training camp Tuesday. The NFL Network first reported Lotulelei’s decision earlier in the day.

The 30-year-old Lotulelei has seven years of NFL experience and was entering his third season with the Bills. He has two years remaining on his contract, which will now run through 2022.

In addition to those players, one of the Eagles newly acquired wide receivers will reportedly opt-out of participating in the upcoming season due to COVID-19 concerns.

RELATED: Eagles WR Marquise Goodwin to opt-out of 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, report says's Ian Rapoport reports Goodwin has informed the Eagles of his plans to sit out this season.

The Eagles acquired Goodwin, known for his speed, in a trade during the NFL Draft.

Goodwin, 29, was expected to bring another veteran presence as a member of the Eagles rebuilt receiving corps.

The team added three rookie receivers in the draft, including recently signed first-round pick Jalen Reagor.

Goodwin becomes the latest of a number of NFL players who have announced intentions to opt-out of the season in recent days, with the New England Patriots reportedly down six players.

FOX 29 Philadelphia and Catherine Park contributed to this report.