Patriots fullback Dan Vitale exercises opt-out clause; tackle Marcus Cannon may follow suit

Patriots fullback Dan Vitale is opting out, while tackle Marcus Cannon could be the next to join him on the sidelines thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a league source, Cannon is “looking at (the opt-out option) critically, and discussing it with his family.”

With quarterbacks and rookies reporting to Foxboro Monday to begin COVID-testing, and veterans to follow Tuesday, some players around the NFL have already used, or are seriously considering the leave of absence option provided players due to the pandemic.

Vitale, who signed a $1.3 million free agent deal with the Patriots, was expected to assume the James Develin role. The former Pats fullback retired earlier this year. Vitale, a five-year veteran, started 15 games last year with the Packers.

But with a newborn child in tow, he chose the absence route, Julia Faron confirmed on behalf of Steinberg Sports & Entertainment.

USA Today was the first to report the Vitale news.

With Vitale out, that leaves second-year player Jakob Johnson, who showed steady improvement in the role last year before suffering a season-ending injury as the primary fullback. It’s also possible for third round pick Dalton Keene, a tight end with position versatility, to pick up the slack, or even assume the job.

The Pats moved up a few spots to land Keene in the 2020 NFL Draft, making a deal with the Jets. That move might pay off with Vitale already done for the year.

As for Cannon, there’s been speculation about him also exercising the opt-out clause. He’s a cancer survivor, having been treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011, his rookie season. So it wouldn’t be surprising for him to take a leave. According to the source, however, “nothing has been determined.”

The Patriots are thin at tackle as it is, so Cannon’s decision is significant. Patriots offensive lineman Najee Toran, who wasn’t expected to make the final 53-man roster, also opted out, along with Vitale, a source confirmed.

That left the Patriots with two extra spots on the roster. One was filled by rookie wide receiver Will Hastings, a source confirmed. Hastings had been released on Sunday, along with eight others, to get the roster down to 80.

Players opting out are expected to receive a $150,000 stipend as a salary advance in exchange for delaying payment on their respective contracts.

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