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Patriots and Jets reportedly “lead the pack” to sign free agent LB Dont’a Hightower

It looks like another instance of New England against New York.

Despite being the New England Patriots’ biggest free agent this offseason, linebacker Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned. However, it appears as if a lack of suitors is not the reason why. The Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Miami have all expressed interest, as have the Patriots.

New England, which selected Hightower in the first round of the 2012 draft, is reportedly the leading candidate to retain its team captain, according to Jason La Canfora. However, another team has emerged as well:

Jets and Pats appear to be leading the pack to sign LB Dont'a Hightower but several others monitoring closely as well

Prior to today, the New York Jets have not been mentioned when it comes to going after Hightower but it now seems as if the Patriots’ number one division rival has turned into the number one offseason rival as well. New York, according to overthecap.com, has around $10 million less salary cap space available then New England’s circa $34 million, but is still in a financial position to potentially sign the 27-year old.

At first glance, the Jets appear relatively set at linebacker with Darron Lee and veteran David Harris both on the roster. Still, adding Hightower would definitely improve the unit as he adds both leadership and quality. And it would hurt the Patriots - definitely more than signing Darrelle Revis two years ago: As bad as losing Hightower would be, seeing him join one of its biggest rivals would definitely sting for the Patriots and their fans.

UPDATE: Hightower will take a free agent visit with the Jets. It will be interesting to see if this is a negotiating ploy or if Hightower is serious about signing with the Jets.