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Dont’a Hightower is the Patriots top free agent to retain this offseason

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The Patriots linebacker and defensive signal caller is the #1 priority for the Patriots to retain in order to maintain continuity on defense.

The Patriots have a lot of free agency needs. From retaining top free agents and finding their veteran replacements should any of those free agents sign with another team, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The Patriots have about $60M in cap space, but a lot of that will be spent on retaining their own key free agents. The top priority for the Patriots will be signing LB Dont’a Hightower to a long-term deal.

Hightower was initially drafted by the Patriots 25th overall in the 2012 draft. Hightower’s leadership and play-making abilities at both linebacker and off the edge is what enticed the Patriots in the first place and he’s been everything they could hope for. There is the issue of him missing 2-3 games every year with various knee injuries, in addition to an ACL injury in college, but he’s been available down the stretch and in the postseason. Hightower is capable of playing through pain, although the Patriots liked to rotate him out every 3rd series last season to manage a knee issue.

Hightower may be responsible for two of the biggest plays in the Patriots last two successful title runs. In Super Bowl XLIX, Hightower managed to stop Marshawn Lynch at the 1 yard line with a Herculean effort to shed Russell Okung 5 yards away from the play and tackle with the shoulder. That play gets overlooked because of what happened on the next play, but in the Do Your Job documentary, the Patriots coaches were singing his praises for that. Super Bowl LI, it was his strip sack that set forward the chain of events that led to the Patriots unlikely Super Bowl LI comeback. Most of that was a brain-fart by RB Devonta Freeman, but give Hightower credit for taking advantage of a gimme opportunity.

Here’s my offer to Hightower:

With Hightower approaching free agency, there’s little incentive to work out a deal until he gets offer from other teams. My guess is he’s seeking Top 10, maybe even Top 5 linebacker money. The deal itself would put Hightower 3rd amongst 4-3 OLB/3-4 ILB behind Jamie Collins ($12.5M per year, 52.8% guaranteed) and Luke Kuechly ($12.359M per year, 43.8% guaranteed). Hightower would get $12.05M per year and 47.7% of it guaranteed. It guarantees his place on the roster the next three seasons and allows the team an out should Hightower develop more problematic knee issues. I think this is a fair deal because Hightower gets paid and the Patriots get 3 years of Hightower’s cap number being below the contract’s average.

EDIT: Thanks to freemantor for noticing a bad calculation on the initial offer where the signing bonus proration was double-counted. I’ve adjusted the offer to keep a similar AAV, but had to increase the dollar value for Years 1-3.

The new offer guarantees 48.2% of the contract and pays him an average of $12.03M per season. First three and four seasons of the contract will still pay him Top 5 LB money, even though the average is just over $11M instead of the bad numbers from the first number.