The NFL’s 4 PM deadline to opt out of the 2020 season has come and gone and the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of only three teams not to have a single player choose to sit out the season. They join the Falcons and Chargers as the only two other teams.
In total, 65 players decided to opt out of the season. They ranged from fringe roster players to starters like Chiefs’ RB Damien Williams and Giants’ LT Nate Solder. Bills’ star cornerback Tre’Davious White was arguably the biggest name openly considering sitting out but ultimately has decided to play this season. Those who opt out can’t change their mind and opt back in.
Players without a medical reason to sit out will receive a $150k stipend for the season, an advance of their 2021 salary. Players sitting out deemed high risk receive $350k. Contracts toll for in both cases while the high risk players will receive an accrued season, which matters for future pension and health benefits.
At least two Steelers were likely to be considered high risk – James Conner and Cameron Heyward. Conner battled and beat cancer in college while Heyward has asthma. Both will play this season.
Around the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns had five players opt out, led by NT Andrew Billings. The Ravens had two, OT Andre Smith and WR/RB De’Anthony Thomas while the Bengals had one, backup DL Josh Tupou. The New England Patriots had the most opt outs with a whopping eight of them, including SS Patrick Chung, ILB Dont’a Hightower, and OT Marcus Cannon.
Of course, the NFL’s official deadline doesn’t completely prevent a player from choosing to sit out later on in the season. The league has created an exemption for those diagnosed with a medical condition later in the year or someone who has a family member who becomes severely sick with the virus. But players may choose to skip the year if they feel the league’s safety protocol isn’t strong enough or if there are outbreaks around the league. In those cases, the player wouldn’t receive a stipend.