While the NFL playoffs are still underway with eight teams left standing, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: after not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the 7-9 squad has a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins.
With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue things at fullback.
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17 if not signed to an exclusive rights tender at that point.
2020 review: After appearing in only four games during his 2019 rookie season, former international player Jakob Johnson served as New England’s fullback in 2020 — taking over the spot previously held by James Develin. In this role, he appeared in all 16 of the Patriots’ games as a lead blocker in the running game and occasional receiver out of the backfield or from a tight end alignment: Johnson ended up catching eight passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.
All in all, Johnson was on the field for 36.9 percent of New England’s offensive snaps. He also was regularly used in the kicking game, playing 43.4 percent of special teams snaps.
2021 preview: An exclusive rights free agent, anything but Johnson being signed to a tender sheet this offseason would be a surprise. In fact, he seems like a realistic candidate to again serve as New England’s fullback of choice in 2021 despite Danny Vitale returning from the Coronavirus opt-out list. Johnson had a pretty good 2020 season after all, and is still one of the cheaper players on the team.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Vitale has a salary cap hit of $1.29 million in 2021.
2020 review: The Patriots signed Danny Vitale to a one-year pact in free agency, but the veteran opted to sit out the 2020 season by exercising the Covid-19 opt-out clause in late July. Instead of competing against Johnson for the fullback role in training camp, Vitale therefore spent the entire year on the proverbial sidelines.
2021 preview: Considering Johnson’s solid 2020 season as well as Vitale’s $1.29 million salary cap hit, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to part ways with the 27-year-old this spring. While there is always a chance the team evaluates the situation differently and projects him to be part of the offense at least during training camp and the possible preseason, it does appear as if Vitale’s days in New England could be numbered.