And then there are seven.
Per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Lee’s decision comes from the fact that he became a first-time father in February.
Lee received a $137,500 signing bonus, along with a base salary of $910,000, when signing a one-year deal to join New England in the offseason. By rule, he’ll keep the signing bonus and his contract will toll into 2021.
Given that he’s never before played for the Patriots and in light of the fact that Lee has never fulfilled the potential that made him the 39th overall pick in the 2014 draft, it’s not the type of defection that will cause coach Bill Belichick to panic (not that he ever does anyway). But the ongoing exodus has taken on a death-by-a-thousand cuts vibe for the Patriots; as each next player opts out, others may decide to do the same.
“I think everybody’s got to make their own individual decisions on that,” Belichick told reporters on Friday regarding the possibility of additional opt outs. “They have to weigh their own situation. Each one of us is unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments and so forth and so on. So, there’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that. My crystal ball is kind of cloudy right now, so I have no idea what will happen along those lines. I think everybody in the league, every team in the league, every player, every coach, everybody in the league is involved in that to some degree. So, we’ll just have to see how it turns out.”
For the Patriots, it’s turning out to be a bit problematic. But few coaches are better equipped to shrug, to move on to the next man up, to expect the same level of performance from whoever the replacements may be, and to pursue victories in what will be a season of chaos for everyone.