The NFL season will look a lot different this year than it did last, in large part due to loosened COVID-19 restrictions, particularly for those vaccinated. Zero players, for example, opted out of the 2021 campaign after dozens voluntarily stepped aside in 2020. Some of those opt-outs changed the course of last season. Think of the Chiefs, who lost two big names up front, struggled to protect Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and then spent big to shore up the trenches this year. Or the Patriots, who lost an NFL-leading eight players, struggled to gain their footing post-Tom Brady and went uncharacteristically bold to revamp the roster this spring.
With all that in mind, we thought it might be appropriate to revisit some of 2020's most notable opt-outs and update their status going into 2021: Where are they now? Did any lose their jobs? Are some still key starters? Did others find new teams? Let's take a look:
Williams was one of the Chiefs' biggest stars on their road to a title in 2019, posting an MVP-caliber performance in the Super Bowl. With first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire entrenched as the top RB, Kansas City released Williams this March, and he signed a one-year deal with the Bears. He's set to share snaps with Tarik Cohen behind David Montgomery.
The former 49ers deep threat landed with the Eagles in a draft-day trade in 2020, and was set to have a potentially prominent role out wide. This March, he reverted to San Francisco in an unusual move due to stipulations in the trade, but the 49ers cut him the next day. He then signed with the Bears and could serve as one of Chicago's top three wideouts to open the year.
A former Dolphins first-rounder, he played just three games in 2019 -- his first with the Broncos -- due to injury and despite inking a four-year, $51 million deal that spring. After returning from his opt-out, James suffered a torn Achilles while training away from Denver's facilities, and was released 10 days later. He's since signed with the Ravens but will spend 2021 in rehab.
A former second-team All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champ, Cannon battled various injuries to serve as New England's starting right tackle for several years, after getting stars inside as well. After re-acquiring RT Trent Brown from the Raiders this offseason, the Patriots shipped Cannon to the Texans in a swap of draft picks. He's currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
A longtime Steelers tackle before arriving via trade, Gilbert missed his entire debut Cardinals season with a knee injury. After opting out of 2020, he announced his retirement this April, paving the path for Kelvin Beachum to remain Arizona's right tackle.
OT Nate Solder
The former Patriots left tackle logged two healthy, albeit underwhelming, seasons as the Giants' blind-side blocker before opting out, forcing first-round rookie Andrew Thomas into an immediate role. Now, Solder is battling an injury as he looks to serve as New York's top reserve tackle up front.
The Chiefs' starting right guard in the team's Super Bowl LIV victory, he returned to reprise his role this offseason, only to suffer a broken hand. He's currently rehabbing from the injury but is set to reclaim his RG job upon return, perhaps by Week 1.
Named a 2019 Pro Bowl alternate after a quiet run as one of Chicago's top players on a stingy defensive front, Goldman is fresh off a stint on COVID-19 reserve but is set to reprise his role as the starting nose tackle alongside fellow big man Akiem Hicks.
An up-and-comer with the Ravens who cashed in on a three-year, $27 million deal with the Vikings in March 2020, Pierce opted out before debuting in Minnesota but is locked in as a starting defensive tackle going into the new year, this time as part of a beefed-up front that includes a healthier Danielle Hunter, newcomer Dalvin Tomlinson and returning vet Sheldon Richardson.
Originally signed by the Bills to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2018, he logged two straight healthy seasons with Buffalo prior to opting out. Buffalo fared just fine without him, advancing to the AFC title game, but has recommitted to him as a starting DT going into 2021 alongside Ed Oliver.
LB C.J. Mosley
The former Ravens star played just two games in his 2019 Jets debut after signing a five-year, $85 million deal, then left New York bereft of proven talent by opting out in 2020. Now, at 29, he's back as the centerpiece of a revamped unit overseen by new head coach Robert Saleh, set to start at middle linebacker next to former Lions vet Jarrad Davis.
Arguably the biggest opt-out of them all, the Patriots' two-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion was coming off an active 2019 season in which he logged the second-most sacks (5.5) of his career and his best tackle total (71) in five years. He's back as one of the starting inside linebackers on a defense that also added pass rusher Matt Judon and defensive back Jalen Mills.
CB Sam Beal
A 2018 third-round pick of the Giants, he was set to compete for a starting job after two injury-riddled seasons to start his career, then opted out and faced charges for a June 2020 arrest. Now on probation after pleading guilty, he's not a lock to make New York's final roster.
A key leader for the Patriots' secondary and three-time Super Bowl champion, he had just wrapped up his 11th NFL season when he opted out of 2020. This March, at 33, he announced his retirement, leaving New England to turn to Adrian Phillips opposite Devin McCourty on the back end of the defense.