Patriots Release ‘Super Back’ and Sign Former Wisconsin Star

Getty Dan Vitale

The New England Patriots made two roster moves on Thursday. They released FB Dan Vitale and signed TE Troy Fumagalli, per Jim McBride of the Boston Globe.

Vitale was signed during the offseason in 2020, but he never played for the Patriots because he opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Fumagalli has played two seasons in the NFL, both with the Denver Broncos.

In his two professional seasons, Fumagalli has amassed 14 receptions and two TD receptions.

Hopes were high for Vitale when he signed last year. Known as the “Super Back” from his days in college at Northwestern because of his speed and playmaking prowess, there thoughts he could expand New England’s usage of the fullback position.

Once he opted out of the 2020 campaign, there were immediate concerns as to whether he’d ever play a down for the Patriots.

What’s Happening With the Patriots’ Opt-Outs?

The Patriots’ eight opt-outs were the most in the NFL, and most of them will not be with the team in 2021.

Najee Toran, Marqise Lee and Vitale have been released. Marcus Cannon has been traded to the Houston Texans. Patrick Chung retired, and Dont’a Hightower was among the noteworthy absences at OTAs on Thursday.

Matt LaCosse and Brandon Bolden were the only opt-outs to attend OTAs. WBZ’s Michael Hurley is keeping track.

The release of Vitale might mean Dalton Keene will be moved to fullback. He has some experience at the position from college, but was originally viewed as a potential running mate for Devin Asiasi. He failed to make an impact at tight end as a rookie, so a backup role behind Jakob Johnson is most likely, unless of course he too is released or sent to the practice squad.

Fumagalli has been added to an already crowded tight end room. The Patriots signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in the offseason. Both men are expected to play a ton in 2021.

The Patriots still have Asiasi and LaCosse, who opted out, and made a really nice catch of a Cam Newton throw during the first day of OTAs. It might be tough for Fumagalli to find a spot.

What Will Happen With Hightower?

Stephon Gilmore and a few other Patriots veterans were absent from OTAs, but Hightower’s absence is perhaps the most concerning. There were rumors that he was considering retirement, but Bill Belichick was asked about his middle linebacker’s eventual attendance, and the coach said he expects him to be there.

Hightower recently posted pictures of his wedding on Instagram, so that could explain his absence. In any case, the Patriots’ retooled defense could still use Hightower in the middle. If he isn’t available, it won’t break everything New England is trying to do on that side of the ball. Still, it’s hard to quantify the impact he could make from an on-field and off-field leadership standpoint.

As it stands, Hightower and Gilmore’s attendance are worth watching over the next few days.

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