Hopefully you didn't give your iPad the Bill Belichick Microsoft Surface treatment after you heard about the Patriots trading linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns this morning, because it may have tipped us off to what New England's front office is trying to get done contract-wise with their other stud linebacker, Dont'a Hightower.
Reactions to the trade have been all over the place today, ranging from "Trust the Hoodie" to almost 2003 "THIS TEAM HATES THEIR COACH" levels, but the leaked details of how the Jamie Collins negotiations were going probably gave us at least a few hints on what it may take to sign Dont'a Hightower to a new deal after his rookie deal expires after this season.
Basically, Jamie was asking for a Von Miller type deal, which is, obviously, ridiculous, mostly because the back of Collins's jersey doesn't say "Miller":
With Jamie Collins contract coming up, he was at one point asking for what one league source described as "Von Miller money." Von: 6-$114.5M— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 31, 2016
So let's compare Hightower's production to Collins, and see if he may be angling for a similar deal.
Here's the short line on Collins: per NFL.com, Jamie has 291 combined tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 5 picks in his career.
And here's Hightower: 340 combined tackles, 16 sacks, no picks (again, career stats).
Here's where it gets tricky: the Patriots love their nickel defense packages, and they were almost always counting on Hightower and Collins to wrap up whatever the defensive line couldn't contain. Without Collins, that task gets a lot more complicated, no matter how high the Pats Pulpit crew is on rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts.
New England won't pay Dont'a like he's Von Miller, but it's not unreasonable to think Bill Belichick could make Hightower one of the best-paid linebackers in the game. After all, he did pay safety Devin McCourty the most guaranteed money for a safety in history (at the time) when they extended him in 2015. In a more relevant example, New England re-signed Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo to a five-year extension in 2011 that was worth $48.5 million, with $25 million of that being guaranteed. Do I really have to go through all the great linebackers Bill Belicheck has signed to long-term deals over the years to make the point that smart, tough linebackers are crucial to a Belichick defense? Didn't think so.
Either way, if the reports are true that Jamie Collins was wanting to get paid like a top-5 pass rusher, which he's not, then New England may have to pony up something similar if they want to keep Dont'a Hightower in blue and silver, because, hey, just look at Malik Jackson, who's getting paid $90 million to waste his time in Jacksonville - if the Patriots don't, somebody else will.
And if that sounds outrageous to you, just remember that New England is projected to have over $60 million in cap space in 2017. If they want to get this deal with Hightower done, they can, and history suggests they will.