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Final Thoughts On Opt-Out

Acquired by the Carolina Panthers in a swap of Pro Bowlers this offseason, left tackle Russell Okung has yet to take a single snap for his new team. Now, apparently, there’s a good chance he never will. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the 31-year-old offensive lineman “seriously considered” opting out of the 2020 NFL season ahead of Thursday’s deadline, and now he’s mulling retirement because of health concerns amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Okung, who missed 10 games in 2019 due to a blood clot in his lungs, “is comfortable walking away from the game if he feels the football environment is not safe,” Fowler wrote Friday. “If Okung did retire, the Panthers could pursue his $2.5 million in signing bonus proration.”

Pulmonary embolisms are not listed by the CDC as a factor for increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, but it’s unclear if Okung has other health concerns that would’ve qualified him for a “high-risk” opt-out of the 2020 season. At any rate, the fact he’s weighing retirement could have serious ripple effects for the Panthers, who acquired the former Los Angeles Chargers left tackle in a rare player-for-player swap that sent 27-year-old Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner to L.A.

A two-time Pro Bowler set to play the final season of a four-year, $53 million contract he originally signed in 2017, Okung was tabbed to be the most accomplished starter on Carolina’s offensive line, not to mention the chief protector of new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He made headlines earlier this offseason for a public dispute with the NFL Players Association over the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, but Okung is best known for his days at LT with the Chargers (2017-19) and Seattle Seahawks (2010-15), who originally drafted him sixth overall out of Oklahoma State.


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