"I was shocked, disappointed -- a bunch of emotions went through my head initially," said Mayo, who played alongside and is friends with both men.
"Then I took a step back and looked at each situation. These are personal decisions. Obviously, Hightower took a step back and examined his personal situation and so did Chung and I totally respect the decision. I know coach (Bill Belichick) already talked about it.”
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Speaking on a video conference call Friday morning, the Patriots inside linebackers coach said the leadership and play of both players will be missed but added that, “From a football standpoint, you just gotta treat it like an injury.”
“We’ve always had that 'next man up' mentality and that’s how we’re approaching it going forward,” said Mayo. “With that said, even though those guys have opted out, those guys will still continue to mentor some of the younger guys. Guys who haven’t played as much ball.
"And I can totally appreciate it. Hightower is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around and so is Chung. Those guys are not here with us this year on the field but they are still around.”
Mayo saluted the work the organization has done in getting the facility prepared for dealing with football during a pandemic.
“The staff has done a fantastic job,” he said. “One thing I’ve always respected about this organization is they don’t just try to solve these complex problems in-house, they go out and ask other people what they’re doing.
“When I walk around the building, I feel safe and I think the players do, as well,” Mayo continued. “I think they’ve done a fantastic job. Our operations people deserve a shout-out.
"This is such a fluid situation. Things change, whether it’s the CDC changing guidelines or any of that stuff. It changes so much and those guys have done a great job around the building so guys feel safe and coaches feel safe.”