The 26-year-old Vitale, who was the team’s most experienced candidate to replace retired fullback James Develin, had signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Patriots in May as a free agent. The contract included $100,000 in guaranteed money.
The Patriots have traditionally utilized the fullback as much as almost any team in the NFL. They most notably featured the position extensively two seasons ago, making a late-season transformation to a grind-it-out running attack en route to the Super Bowl LIII championship over the Los Angeles Rams.
Vitale and his wife, Caley, welcomed a baby daughter on April 16. When Vitale spoke with Patriots reporters in May, he said, “Obviously with everything going on here, and the state of the country, the little silver lining there is I get to spend a lot of time with both of them.”
According to an agreement approved by both the league and the NFL Players Association, players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they choose to opt out. Players without risk can earn $150,000 for opting out.
Vitale would have been entering his fifth NFL season, having previously played for the Cleveland Browns (2016-2018) and Green Bay Packers (2018-2019). He entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Northwestern, beginning his career on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.
Vitale, who has played in 44 career games, wasn’t a lock to make the Patriots’ final roster as he was vying for a spot against second-year player Jakob Johnson (who suited up in 4 games for New England in 2019) and undrafted rookie free agent Jake Burt. Tight end Dalton Keene, a third-round pick from Virginia Tech, could also factor into the mix given his experience lining up in the offensive backfield at times.
In addition to Vitale, second-year center/guard Najee Toran has also opted out of the 2020 season, a source confirmed. Toran, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2018 with the San Francisco 49ers, was vying for a backup role after spending the 2019 season on the Patriots’ practice squad. The Boston Globe first reported Toran’s decision.
Also, the Patriots have reached an agreement with undrafted free-agent receiver Will Hastings (Auburn) to return to the team, a source confirmed. The Patriots had waived Hastings on Sunday, but now have a roster spot to bring him back after Vitale and Toran opted out.