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LB Dont’a Hightower turned down big contract offer from Patriots before season

The Patriots want their linebacker around for a long time.

The New England Patriots have one clear priority for free agency: retain LB Dont’a Hightower. And the Patriots have already tried to strike a deal.

Prior to the season, the Patriots offered Hightower a deal for more than $10 million per season, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. $10 million would rank as the 5th highest paid linebacker in the NFL, which aligned with Hightower’s ranking in the league before the season.

Well, former teammate Jamie Collins just received a deal from the Cleveland Browns valued at $12.5 million per season, making him the highest paid stand-up linebacker in the league. Hightower has his sights on a contract bigger than the $10 million he was offered prior to the season, and deservingly so.

Hightower has played a huge role in the Patriots past two Super Bowl titles and he’s regarded as a leader of the defense. He is also credited with helping the Patriots incorporate four brand new linebackers onto the roster this season in Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Barkevious Mingo, and Kyle Van Noy.

The Patriots could apply the franchise tag on Hightower if the two sides are unable to reach an agreement for a long term extension. The tag is valued at roughly $15 million for one season of work; Hightower joined ESPN’s NFL Live program and called the franchise tag “a lot of money.”

The two sides have a lot to work through before coming to an extension, but one important factor for Hightower is that he is not expected to need offseason surgery, according to the Herald’s Jeff Howe.

Hightower will likely not receive the same contract offer that talent-hungry Cleveland was able to offer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was awarded the Devin McCourty treatment.

McCourty received bigger offers from teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, but opted to return to New England after receiving a personal phone call from head coach Bill Belichick, and because the Patriots gave him an NFL record amount of guaranteed money for a safety.

Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly set the high mark with $27 million in guaranteed money in his monster 5-year. $61.8 million contract extension. Kuechly is the best linebacker in the league, but he signed his deal two seasons ago and the cap has only increased.

Collins ($26.4 million guaranteed) joins Kuechly as the only two stand-up linebackers in the NFL with more than $20 million guaranteed in their contracts. The fact that the franchise tag would effectively be a 1-year, $15 million contract means that any extension would require a considerable amount more than $15 million in guarantees.

A 5-year, $60 million deal would make Hightower the 3rd highest paid linebacker in the league, behind Kuechly and Collins, while $25 million guaranteed would be the equivalent of slightly more than two guaranteed years.

The Patriots can apply the franchise tag starting February 15th. We’ll see if Hightower and the Patriots can reach an extension.