Key Patriots opt-outs Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon set to return in 2021

The Patriots' first foray into a world without Tom Brady was unmemorable to say the least, but key reinforcements are on their way in 2021.

New England is set to welcome back three significant players who opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon -- NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per sources informed of the situation. All are in a good place physically, Rapoport added.

While the Patriots are welcoming back a host of key contributors who opted out, a Julian Edelman return from a knee injury that limited him to just six games in 2020 remains up in the air, Rapoport reported.

Edelman is still rehabbing and trying to work back from the injury. Though the 12-year Patriot wants to play in 2021, whether he'll be healthy enough to do so remains in question and there's been no decision yet on his future, Rapoport reported.

There's no overlooking the fact the Patriots missed all three of the aforementioned players who opted out.

Without them, the Patriots finished 27th in yards per game and points scored per game, and 15th in yards allowed per contest in 2020. The only encouraging marks came in points allowed per game, in which the Patriots finished seventh in the league, and rushing yards gained per contest, a statistic buoyed by quarterback Cam Newton's ability to pick up yards on the ground.

New England played the 2020 season without its defensive leader in Hightower and an important back-end contributor in Chung, and missed its starting right tackle in Cannon. While the Patriots still have to figure out what they're going to do at quarterback, they'll at least be stronger at other key positions as they attempt to rebound from a disappointing 7-9 finish in 2020.

New England led the NFL with eight opt-outs ahead of the 2020 season.

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