Patriots OT Cannon plans to opt out, source says

New England Patriots starting offensive tackle Marcus Cannon plans to opt out of the 2020 season, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Monday night.

Cannon, 32, is set to receive the $350,000 higher-risk amount in salary as a cancer survivor, a source told Fowler.

The news about Cannon was first reported by 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Cannon was set to enter his 10th NFL season in 2020, all spent with the Patriots, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Texas Christian. He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma shortly before the 2011 draft, and likely would have been drafted much higher with a clean bill of health.

He began his career on the reserve/non-football injury list to start the 2011 season while he received treatment and recovered. He was activated to the roster in November of that year, and later awarded the team’s 2011 Ed Block Courage award, selected by teammates for being a role model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage.

Cannon first became a starter at right tackle for the team in 2013, and he started in the club’s last two Super Bowl championships, in the 2016 and 2018 seasons. He has two years remaining on his contract, and was set to earn a base salary of $4.7 million this season.

According to an agreement approved by both the league and the NFL Players Association, players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they choose to opt out. Players without risk can earn $150,000 for opting out.

He is one of several Patriots players who have decided to opt out, joining fullback Danny Vitale and reserve offensive lineman Najee Toran. It is possible there are more players to come, with veterans scheduled to arrive Tuesday at Gillette Stadium for COVID-19 testing.

Yodny Cajuste, a 2019 third-round pick from West Virginia who didn’t play as a rookie because of injury, is one potential replacement for Cannon. The team also drafted Wake Forest offensive tackle Justin Herron in the sixth round of this year’s draft, and also has backup Korey Cunningham under contract for 2020.

As for Vitale, whose opt-out was confirmed by Steinberg Sports & Entertainment agency, he was the team’s most experienced candidate to replace retired fullback James Develin.

Vitale had signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Patriots in May as a free agent. The contract included $100,000 in guaranteed money. The Patriots have traditionally utilized the fullback as much as almost any team in the NFL. They most notably featured the position extensively two seasons ago, making a late-season transformation to a grind-it-out running attack en route to the Super Bowl LIII championship over the Los Angeles Rams.

Vitale and his wife, Caley, welcomed a baby daughter on April 16. When Vitale spoke with Patriots reporters in May, he said, “Obviously with everything going on here, and the state of the country, the little silver lining there is I get to spend a lot of time with both of them.”

Vitale would have been entering his fifth NFL season, having previously played for the Cleveland Browns (2016-2018) and Green Bay Packers (2018-2019). He entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Northwestern, beginning his career on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.

Vitale, who has played in 44 career games, wasn’t a lock to make the Patriots’ final roster, as he was vying for a spot against second-year player Jakob Johnson (who suited up in four games for New England in 2019) and undrafted rookie free agent Jake Burt.

Tight end Dalton Keene, a third-round pick from Virginia Tech, could also factor into the mix given his experience lining up in the offensive backfield at times.

Toran also has opted out of the 2020 season, a source confirmed. Toran, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2018 with the San Francisco 49ers, was vying for a backup role after spending the 2019 season on the Patriots’ practice squad. The Boston Globe first reported Toran’s decision.

Also, the Patriots have reached an agreement with undrafted free-agent receiver Will Hastings (Auburn) to return to the team, a source confirmed. The Patriots had waived Hastings on Sunday, but they now have a roster spot to bring him back after Cannon, Vitale and Toran opted out.

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