While Tom Brady officially signing a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the biggest story of the day, another move may very well have a more direct impact on the quarterback’s former team in 2020 and beyond despite flying under the radar on a national scale: the New England Patriots and fullback Danny Vitale agreed to terms on a free agency contract on Friday, as was since confirmed by his agent, Leigh Steinberg.
The 26-year-old may not be a household name and has registered only 16 touches in his four seasons in the NFL, but he is still an intriguing addition to New England’s backfield. After all, the former sixth-round draft pick brings plenty of experience to the table — he has appeared in a combined 44 games during his stints with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers — and is as good an athlete as you will find at the fullback position.
Adding Vitale, however, also has another effect: it casts doubt on the future of veteran fullback James Develin.
Develin has served as the Patriots’ primary (and most of the times only) fullback since shortly after joining the team as a practice squad pickup in early 2012. Since then, the former undrafted rookie journeyman has developed into one of the best fullbacks in football and a valuable member of New England’s offensive backfield and special teams units both on and off the field. Along the way, he also helped the team win three Super Bowls.
Develin proved himself a reliable member of the Patriots’ offensive attack, and appeared in a combined 97 regular season and playoff games for the team. However, his 2019 campaign was cut short by injury: in Week 2 of the regular season, the veteran hurt his neck and was later diagnosed with a muscle and disc issue in his upper back/neck area. New England subsequently decided to place the 31-year-old on season-ending injured reserve.
While there was initial optimism that the issue might not be overly serious and maybe even only of the week-to-week variety, the Patriots’ addition of Danny Vitale now creates an aura of uncertainty around Develin. Could the veteran, who was among the highest paid and most successful players at his position for an extended period of time, be headed for free agency? Or is the team just playing it safe by adding more depth alongside him and fellow fullback Jakob Johnson?
Both options appear to be on the table at the moment, which means that fullback can now definitively also be added to an ever-growing list of uncertain positions on the Patriots’ roster.
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