The Patriots are receiving a further roster boost even before free agency begins as all of the team’s league-high eight opt-outs are preparing to play in 2021, a league source confirmed Saturday.
In addition to the previously confirmed returns of veterans Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, and Marcus Cannon, the team will welcome back Brandon Bolden, Danny Vitale, Matt LaCosse, Marqise Lee, and Najee Toran.
A core special teamer with a penchant for big hits, Bolden provides valuable depth as a running back and receiver. Few players are more well-versed in New England’s complicated playbook. In addition, the nine-year veteran is one of the most popular and well-respected players in the locker room.
Vitale was signed last March and seen as the leading candidate to replace the retired James Develin at fullback. Vitale has 44 games under his belt in four seasons with the Browns and Packers. Vitale, who became a father for the first time last year, was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2016. He’s shown the ability to be a solid blocker and playmaker.
“I kind of had to learn how to play as a different type of fullback in different types of offenses over the last couple years … jumping around a little bit,’' Vitale said shortly after he signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal. “So, when I was in Tampa Bay, I was more of a tight end, wing type of player. In Cleveland, I was kind of a hand-in-the-ground, bruising-type fullback. And then in my time in Green Bay, I did a little bit of both. I was kind of all over the field. They would split me out a little bit, catching passes out of the backfield, being a running back at times and protection back.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned about my style over the last couple of years is being able to be versatile and trying to use my intelligence to the best of my ability, learn as much as I can for as many spots as I can, so whenever they need somebody to step in, I can fill that role. So, that’s kind of how I would describe my style of play.’'
LaCosse caught 13 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in 2019, his lone season in New England. He will rejoin the competition for tight end snaps with Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene.
Lee signed a one-year deal in April after six seasons and 174 catches for 2,184 yards and 8 touchdowns with the Jaguars. He said in May that he was looking for a fresh start after a pair of injury-riddled seasons.
“My biggest thing was I just knew the last couple of years I didn’t have the opportunity to do the things I needed to do as a player,’’ he said. “I felt like me choosing New England this season, in a sense, to try and get back to myself. I feel like this place is the perfect place to try to get back to yourself.’’
Toran spent 2019 on New England’s practice squad after the guard was released by the 49ers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2018. He will compete for an interior spot along the offensive line in camp.