As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges to sports leagues trying to operate during unique and unprecedented times, some members of the New England Patriots are opting on the side of caution.
On Monday, USA Today’s Jarrett Bell was the first to report that fullback Danny Vitale had decided to opt out for the 2020 NFL season, amidst pandemic concerns. Having signed with New England as an unrestricted free agent in mid-March, he was set to enter his first season in the Patriots’ system. Vitale was expected to offer some of the same skills that made the recently-retired James Develin such a productive and important player in the New England offense. The Patriots were particularly intrigued by the fullback’s potential prowess in pass protection, physicality and receiving in the open field.
Vitale’s decision to forgo the season is understandable, as he and his wife, Caley, are parents of a newborn baby. As a result of his decision, he will receive a $150,000 stipend for voluntarily opting out, while his contract will toll and his season neither be accrued nor credited.
Toran Follows Suit
Shortly after Vitale’s decision was made public, interior offensive lineman Najee Toran joined him. The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride was the first to report that Toran had decided to sit out the year in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Toran was projected to compete for a backup role along the Patriots’ interior offensive line this summer. The 24-year-old former practice-squadder had played all three interior spots over the course of his career. Despite some flashes of promise, he was expected to face an uphill battle against teammates Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Michael Onwenu and Dustin Woodard.
As indicated by Miguel Benzan (via Twitter @patscap), Toran spent the entire 2019 season on the Patriots practice squad. As 2019 was not a credited season, and per Benzan’s understanding of the COVID Amendments to the CBA, Toran would not qualify for the $150K salary advance.
Et’ Tu, Cannon?
Despite Toran’s decision to opt out, the offensive line may still experience further depletion. On Monday afternoon, Jim Murray of 98.5 The Sports Hub reported that right tackle Marcus Cannon was expected to opt out of the season, as well. Shortly thereafter, however, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald slightly refuted Murray’s report, stating that “Cannon is carefully considering opting out for the 2020 season, but by no means has a decision been made.”
Cannon, 32, battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011, the year the Patriots drafted him. He has since played in 115 games and started 69 games for New England, winning three Super Bowls. Cannon’s medical history would seemingly place him in the high-risk category of those who might suffer complications from coronavirus.
With Vitale and Toran having opted out, New England had two open spots on its 80-man roster once the moves became official. One of those spots is expected to be taken by rookie wide receiver Will Hastings, who had been released on Sunday. Hastings re-signing was also reported first by the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC