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Vitale Picks Patriots Over Packers

Fullback Danny Vitale caught seven passes and had seven tackles on special teams last season.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have lost another free agent.

After weighing pitches from Green Bay and New England on Friday, Vitale has decided to sign with the Patriots, according to a source.

Because of his athleticism and experience as a receiver dating to his days at Northwestern, he appeared to be a good fit for coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme. Indeed, he looked like a potential playmaker during training camp. However, Vitale surprisingly played only 170 snaps (15.8 percent). He caught seven passes for 97 yards, delivered as a run blocker and was perfect in limited snaps in pass protection. Plus, he was third on the team in special-teams snaps and special-teams tackles (seven). 

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“I just think it never limits you in terms of what personnel you want to use, whether you want to use 21 or 22,” LaFleur said said before a November game against San Francisco, a team that prominently features fullback Kyle Juszczyk. “But you’ve got to have the right people to do it, and I think we’re both in a position we have really good fullbacks. And I just think it adds another dimension to your offense, especially if you have a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield, as well. I think traditionally, most people think fullback and they think you’re just in there as a thumper to go block. I think the way we’ve both used the guys that we’re fortunate enough to have and try to implement them in the passing game is a little bit unique.”

New England's fullbacks played 129 snaps last year but James Develin played 398 snaps in 2018, so there could be more of an opportunity for the muscular fifth-year player.

At the end of last season, with Vitale sidelined by a knee injury that ultimately required surgery, rookie tight end Jace Sternberger took over the fullback snaps. However, with the release of Jimmy Graham, Sternberger is the early front-runner to be the starting tight end.

Vitale was a sixth-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2016 but failed to make the roster. He started a total of nine games for Cleveland in 2016 and 2017 before joining Green Bay in 2018. At Northwestern, he caught 135 passes in four seasons.

“I think it’s a big eye-opener for a lot of people,” Vitale said of helping breathe life into a position that had fallen out of vogue. “It’s really not dying — and Kyle’s one of the ones who did it — where it’s really been revolutionized and evolved into that type of player now. Where you’re creating mismatches, running routes out of the backfield, still downhill blocking.

“It’s hard to find guys to fit that mold of player, so that’s why it might seem like the position is dying, but everyone who’s using it is using it a good bit and having success. So, clearly it’s worth having that position on the roster if you can find that guy.”

Vitale is the fifth free agent to depart, following Bryan Bulaga to the Chargers, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell to the Giants, and B.J. Goodson to the Browns.


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