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HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Devin McCourty #32 after forcing a fumble from Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots had a lot of issues on the roster in the 2020 season. It certainly didn’t help that they had the most players in the league opt out of the season.

Though the total number of opt-outs (eight) is a little inflated in terms of the players’ collective importance to the team, the Patriots did have several veteran core players opt out. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, right tackle Marcus Cannon, and special teams cornerstone Brandon Bolden are the key names.

Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty delivered a promising update on those players in a new appearance with Tom E. Curran on the NBC Sports Boston “Patriots Talk” podcast. You can listen to the full podcast below. But the most important part is when McCourty says he believes the big names who opted out will opt back in for 2021.

“From my understanding, they’ll all be back,” McCourty said. “B. Bolden, High, Chung. I can’t wait. Those are my guys – Cannon. I just can’t wait to be back around those guys. Even outside of football, seeing them every day, seeing their nice faces.”

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The return of Hightower would represent the biggest upgrade over the 2020 roster, assuming he can still play at the same level he’s been at over the past few seasons. Linebacker depth (or a lack thereof) was the biggest problem on the defense. Chung’s return would shore up the safety room and give promising young defensive back Kyle Dugger a good veteran to learn from. If Cannon returns as the every-week starting right tackle and performs to his usual capabilities, it would change the complexion of the Patriots’ offensive line, especially if Joe Thuney departs via free agency.

Bill Belichick still has plenty of work to do on the 2021 Patriots roster. Making over the quarterback room is at the top of the list, but there are plenty of holes to fix beyond that position. Getting guys like Hightower, Chung, and Cannon back would definitely make Belichick’s job a lot easier.

If you’re thirsty for more Patriots talk, listen below for a pair of podcasts hosted by yours truly. Ty Anderson and I talked about the Super Bowl (specifically, the hot takes surrounding it) and the Pats’ roster-building situation for next season. In addition, Alex Barth and I went in-depth on the NFL’s quarterback carousel and where the Patriots fit in that puzzle.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.