Citing “unforeseen complications” in his recovery from a neck injury that cost him most of the 2019 season, New England Patriots fullback James Develin took to social media on Monday to announce his retirement from pro football. Develin, who originally arrived in New England back in 2012, spent eight of his 10 seasons in the NFL with the team, appearing in 97 combined regular season and postseason games and winning three Super Bowls along the way.
Now, the 31-year-old former undrafted free agents calls it a career, and the Patriots will have to move forward without their number one fullback of most of the last decade. What does this mean for the team? Let’s take a closer look.
New England loses the ‘quarterback of its running game’...
Develin was one of the most consistent and reliable players on the Patriots throughout his time with the organization, and a big part of its ground game. In fact, head coach Bill Belichick once compared his impact on the New England running game to that of a quarterback due to his decision making and high football IQ. The Patriots will miss all those things on the field, and his experience and leadership off it: while not a team captain, Develin was one of the elder statesmen within the locker room and as well-respected as any player on the roster.
...and plenty of versatility on offense and special teams
While Develin made most of his impact as New England’s lead blocker in the running game, his role as a special teams contributor — he saw regular playing time on kick return and punt coverage units in the past — cannot be underestimated either. In general, he was a versatile player throughout his time with the Patriots: practicing not just with the running backs but the tight ends as well, Develin was moved all over the formation to create favorable matchups or tell the offense about the coverage run by the defense. All in all, he finished his career with 36 regular season and playoff catches.
The Patriots’ offseason exodus continues
Develin is just the latest member of the Patriots to announce his departure, joining a long and illustrious list of veteran players to also leave the team this offseason. Quarterback Tom Brady, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and special teams ace Nate Ebner all left New England via unrestricted free agency, while safety Duron Harmon was traded to the Detroit Lions and kicker Stephen Gostkowski released. Furthermore, assistant coaches Dante Scarnecchia, Joe Judge and Bret Bielema will also not be back with the team in 2020.
Danny Vitale and Jakob Johnson are the lone fullbacks remaining
The writing that Develin might not be able to return to the Patriots was on the wall ever since the Patriots decided to sign Danny Vitale in free agency. Whether or not Vitale will be able to eventually replace New England’s long-time fullback remains to be seen, but he is one of two players currently under contract who will compete for the job. The other, of course, is Jakob Johnson who joined the Patriots via the NFL’s Pathway Program last summer and eventually carved out a practice squad spot before replacing Develin after his season-ending injury — at least for four games before himself being placed on injured reserve due to a shoulder issue.
The Patriots gain around $600,000 in salary cap space...
Develin announcing his retirement also has ramifications on the Patriots’ financial situation. While the team entered the day only around $1.09 million under the cap, it has now gained almost half of that: according to Miguel Benzan, New England now has $1.67 million in salary cap space to operate with. That said, the team will need to create more wiggle room in the upcoming weeks and months considering that its draft class will need to be signed and — further down the line — potential in-season investments taken care of.
...and now have enough roster spots for all their rookies
The Patriots do not only get some financial relief due to Develin’s retirement, it also frees up a spot on the 90-man offseason squad. The team already parted ways with edge defender Keionta Davis and safety Obi Melifonwu over the last 24 hours to fit the rookie class — the team has drafted 10 players and reportedly signed 16 others as free agents — on the roster, and subtracting the veteran fullback now puts the team right at the 90-player threshold.