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Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung among six Patriots to opt out

The New England Patriots' defense will be without two additional key veterans in 2020.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung will opt out of the season, NFL Network's Michael Giardi confirmed Tuesday.

ESPN first reported the news.

Players who voluntarily opt out of the season will receive a $150,000 salary advance and their contract will toll.

Hightower became a first-time father on July 16; his mother also has Type 2 diabetes. Chung and his wife are expecting a child.

"Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football -- especially the new addition to our family," Hightower told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

The linebacker later posted a message via social media to explain his decision to fans.

Hightower was scheduled to earn a base salary of $8 million in the final year of his contract. Chung is under contract in New England the next four years and was set to earn $1.1 million in base salary. Both contracts will roll into next season.

The decisions are a big blow to a Patriots defense already undergoing a transition with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts leaving via free agency.

Hightower is a thumper in the middle of the Pats defense who has the flexibility to rush the passer. Per Pro Football Focus, Hightower led all off-ball linebackers in total pressures over the past three seasons with 80.

Chung is a leader in the secondary and a veteran Bill Belichick relies on heavily. Despite an injury-plagued season that saw his production dip last year, Chung remained a key cog for the Pats defense.

The losses are significant from an on-field production, but perhaps even more so from a locker-room leadership standpoint.

The Pats have had six players opt out of the 2020 season. Running back Brandon Bolden will also not play in 2020, per Giardi. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran also opted out.

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