Opinion: Bill Belichick faces challenge of his career with Tom Brady gone and COVID-19 opt-outs thinning roster


USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell breaks down various potential contingencies as the NFL tries to play during a pandemic.


Maybe Bill Belichick has you right where he wants you: Counting him out before the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols have barely had a chance to withstand the test of training camp.

Pretty absurd, huh?

I mean, Tom Brady opted out of the New England Patriots universe and bolted to Tampa. Gronk came out of retirement and went south, too. A few others from a defense that was so prolific early last season, most notably Kyle Van Noy, took the free agency money, too, and ran.

Now it’s a daily dose of defections via COVID-19 opt-outs. No team has been stung harder than the Patriots by the emergency clause included in the revised labor pact that allows players to sit out the 2020 season, no questions asked, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, receiver Marqise Lee became the seventh Patriots player to call on the pandemic clause. Before Lee, star linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung opted out to leave two more holes in Belichick’s defense. The offensive line still needs a boost, but this year it won’t come…

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