New England Patriots free agent LB Dont’a Hightower turns 27 years old today, on March 12th, and what would be a better birthday present than signing a mega-money contract to remain with the Patriots?
The Patriots are “still very interested” in retaining Hightower’s services and there are more reports of competing teams resigning themselves to the inevitable marriage of Hightower and the Patriots.
At least one team involved in talks with free-agent LB Dont'a Hightower is now convinced that he'll return to the Patriots.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 12, 2017
The Patriots are competing with Hightower’s hometown Tennessee Titans, barring an unforeseen challenger entering the contract arena. Breer used to cover the Patriots, so he’s fairly tapped in to the market.
Other Patriots beat writers are sharing similar sentiments, and other teams believe that Hightower’s best fit is with the Patriots.
Hightower uodate: Talked to one front office guy on team 54 linked to. Said "we didn't bother." Belief was 54 returns to NE (1/2) HOWEVER...— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) March 11, 2017
(2/2) another front office exec said they believed Hightower was "ripe" to be plucked from NE but organization didn't interest 54.— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) March 11, 2017
There’s a chance Giardi is talking to the same team as Breer’s source, but the addition of “we didn’t bother” implies that it’s probably not the Titans. And the other executive tells Giardi that Hightower is “‘ripe’ to be plucked,” but they weren’t a fit for Hightower’s desires.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss shed some more light on Hightower’s market in free agency.
“When I reached out to a coach for one linebacker-needy NFL team about Hightower, the response surprised me,” ESPN’s Mike Reiss writes. “Hightower, I was told, wasn’t a fit for that team. One example was that one of Hightower’s best assets is his rush ability, and this particular team doesn’t use its linebackers that way.”
So here’s where we stand on Hightower’s free agency:
- The Patriots really want to keep Hightower, and Hightower just wants to feel respected.
- Titans are interested in Hightower, “but at $10-$13 [million] he’s out of price range,” per ESPN’s Ed Werder. ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky also wants to tone down expectations of Hightower to Tennessee.
- Patriots offered Hightower more than $10 million per season prior to 2016.
- External teams question how Hightower will fit into their defenses, potentially reducing his market value.
- Hightower is not considered as universal of a linebacker as Jamie Collins, which further reduces his market opportunities.
- Other teams think that Hightower is going to return to the Patriots.
Hightower’s market opportunities are less robust because teams want to get lighter and faster at linebacker, while the 6’3, 265 pound Hightower does not match the profile, despite his obvious display of skill on the field.
If $10 million is really out of price range for the Titans, which represents the 7th highest paid linebacker in the league, then the Patriots might actually have the best financial offer on the table, never mind the best organizational offer. Perhaps Hightower is just using the Titans as additional leverage for more money.
Maybe we’ll see Hightower make a wish, blow out his birthday candles, and stay in New England on a 5-year, $50 million deal.