After being forced to use a linebacker at fullback for much of last season, the New England Patriots waited just a few days to address that position in free agency.
Former Green Bay Packers fullback signed with the Patriots on Friday, a source confirmed to NESN’s Doug Kyed.
NESN’s Meredith Gorman reported earlier in the day that Vitale and New England were nearing an agreement.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, Vitale was cut out of camp as a rookie, then went on to play 44 games over four seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. The 26-year-old Northwestern product appeared in 15 games for Green Bay in 2019, serving as both a lead blocker and an occasional option in the passing game (seven catches, 97 yards).
“In a non-disrespectful way, he’s surprised all of us with his athleticism,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters last summer of Vitale, who’s listed at 6 feet, 239 pounds. “You look at him sometimes, you think, meathead, weight-room guy. But you realize he can run, he can catch, he can read coverages.”
Vitale’s arrival casts doubt on the status of James Develin, who suffered a season-ending neck injury early last season. It remains unclear whether the 31-year-old former Pro Bowler will be healthy enough to return this season.
German rookie Jakob Johnson was Develin’s initial replacement, and when he also landed on injured reserve, the Patriots turned to linebacker Elandon Roberts, who hadn’t played on offense since before high school. Roberts emerged as a surprisingly capable blocker and even caught a touchdown pass while continuing to play on defense and special teams. He signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this week.
Vitale is the fourth outside free agent to agree to terms with the Patriots this week, joining wide receiver Damiere Byrd, defensive tackle Beau Allen and safety Adrian Phillips.
Thumbnail photo via Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports Images