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Patriots’ 2020 defense will be a far cry from 2019

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower will opt out of the 2020 season, joining several other teammates in the decision.

The Patriots had an outstanding defense in 2019. To keep that defense at or near the top of the NFL in 2020 may require Bill Belichick’s best coaching job yet.

New England’s defense has been hit harder by player turnover than any other team in the league this year -- and maybe even more than any other defense ever.

That includes today’s opt-outs of Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, but even before we learned that Hightower and Chung won’t play this year, we knew the Patriots had suffered massive losses on defense. In fact, the Football Outsiders Almanac calculated that the Patriots had lost more production on defense from 2019 to 2020 than any team since at least 2002-2003 -- and that calculation was done before Hightower and Chung opted out.

Other key players who are gone from last year’s Patriots defense are Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton and Elandon Roberts. And the Patriots didn’t add any noteworthy veterans to their defense in free agency, although they did draft some players they’re hoping can come in and contribute immediately.

Tom Brady’s departure was by far the biggest story in New England this offseason, but the Patriots lost even more on defense. The 2020 team will look nothing like 2019.