Chiefs running back Damien Williams opts out of season due to COVID-19 concerns

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Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams during a news conference as the Chiefs prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, on January 28, 2020, Aventura, Florida. - CHARLES TRAINOR JR/Miami Herald/TNS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs will begin training camp without a key member of their Super Bowl-winning offense.

Running back Damien Williams on Wednesday informed the Chiefs that he will opt out of playing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team announced via Twitter.

“As an organization, we certainly understand and respect Damien’s choice, knowing it was made in the best interest of his family,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said in a statement. “He means a lot to our football team as a player and a person, and we’re going to miss having him around this season.”

Williams becomes the second known Chiefs player to opt out of the 2020 season, joining right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Duvernay-Tardif last week became the first player in the NFL to elect to opt out.

Under the NFL’s revised collective-bargaining agreement with its players, players can decide not to play this season due to the pandemic and still receive a stipend from the league.

The loss of Williams is a blow to the Chiefs’ offense. Despite missing five games with injuries, he led the team in rushing last season with 498 yards on 111 carries.

Williams also came up big during the postseason, totaling 290 yards (196 rushing) and six touchdowns in three games. He saved his best for last, too, with 133 total yards (104 rushing) and two touchdowns in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV defeat of the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 2.

With Williams opting out, the Chiefs’ first-round selection of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU looms large. He’ll likely be counted on to contribute immediately.

The rest of the team’s running backs group currently consists of Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams, DeAndre Washington and Elijah McGuire. Anthony Sherman rounds out the backfield at the fullback position.

Also Wednesday, the Chiefs waived offensive lineman Jovahn Fair, defensive tackle Braxton Hoyett, defensive back Jalen Julius, fullback John Lovett, punter Tyler Newsome and linebacker Bryan Wright. The release of Newsome signals the Chiefs are set to go with rookie punter Tommy Townsend as Dustin Colquitt’s replacement.

In the recently agreed-upon CBA, teams have the option of carrying 90 players, which would require split-squad practices, or getting down to 80 before their first padded practice. The Chiefs’ first practice projects as Aug. 14, and Wednesday’s roster moves signal they’re aiming for having an 80-man roster before the league’s deadline.

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©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)