LB Dont’a Hightower is currently meeting with teams to help determine his 2017 franchise. ESPN’s Adam Schefter says that Hightower is “in talks with” three teams: 1) New England Patriots; 2) New York Jets; 3) Pittsburgh Steelers.
For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport believes Hightower will make his decision today.
The Patriots would love to have Hightower back and it would appear that Hightower’s been making some last-minute meetings to try and drive up his final contract. Unfortunately for Hightower, these meetings haven’t gone according to plan.
The Steelers don’t want Hightower using them as leverage and told the linebacker that their deal is off the table if he leaves Pittsburgh. Another team that is no longer one of his suitors, outright denied that they met with him.
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that Hightower had met with the Titans, which led Titans GM Jon Robinson to say Hightower had, in fact, not visited with the Titans. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport also reported that Hightower “spent time” with the Titans, so perhaps Tennessee didn’t meet with Hightower in an official capacity.
But the fact that the Titans are backing away from Hightower shows that the market for the Second Team All Pro is less than expected.
And despite receiving cupcakes for his birthday, Hightower apparently does not want to join the Jets. La Canfora has more:
“The Jets interest in Dont'a Hightower cannot be overstated,” La Canfora tweets. “Steelers won't make a massive offer. Pats still keeping a close eye...If the Jets don't land Dont'a Hightower it won't be for lack of trying. I'm convinced they have far and away the most money on the table...Jets have the most [money] on table for Hightower but he doesn't seem inclined to take it. Talks [with Steelers and Patriots] are ongoing.”
So La Canfora reports two key pieces of information. First, the “Steelers won’t make a massive offer,” which is probably why they told Hightower to take their offer before leaving town. Second, the Jets “have far and away the most money on the table,” but Hightower “doesn’t seem inclined to take it.”
Whether it’s the Titans, Jets, or Steelers, it’s always felt like Hightower’s simply using those teams as leverage plays and that he ultimately wants to remain with the Patriots. Who can blame him? Perhaps the Jets high offer is enough to cause head coach Bill Belichick to budge upwards in the contract negotiation, and if that’s the result of these meetings then Hightower accomplished his goal.
It just seems like the three teams linked to Hightower aren’t good matches. The Titans are claiming they’ve never met (classic free agency move, second only to the “we never discussed a trade with Player X” reports right after the trade deadline). The Steelers aren’t offering enough money. And Hightower doesn’t seem to want to play for the Jets.
So we’ll see if the Patriots and Hightower can reach a final price in the coming days. Hightower is the top free agent on the open market, so he could find more last-minute suitors. But so far, it seems like a reunion with New England is inevitable.