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Today is a big day for Dont’a Hightower and the Patriots

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The linebacker will see a portion of his contract become guaranteed.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s free agency is not only the time to add talent to the roster (or watch it move elsewhere), but also to work in fiscally responsible ways. Keeping a close eye on the salary cap and how every move impacts it is therefore imperative for teams, and for journalists and fans alike to understand the motive behind a club’s decision making. For the New England Patriots, it is heavily influenced by their relative little salary cap room.

As of today, the reigning world champions are $9.9 million under the league’s $188.2 million threshold — wiggle room that could be improved by making additional moves like altering contracts either through pay cuts or extensions, trading players, or straight up releasing them. One oft-mentioned candidate to see his current deal amended is linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who is set to hit New England’s books with a cap hit of $10.95 million this year.

However, today will give us at least somewhat of an indication as to what actually happens with the veteran moving forward: today, $2.0 million of Hightower’s $7.0 million base salary become fully guaranteed. While the Patriots could still opt to release or trade the 29-year-old, the team keeping him through today’s deadline makes it more probable that he will be kept on the roster one way or another — and for good reason, considering his importance to the Patriots’ defense.

While Hightower is no 100% player when it comes to his snap count (at least he wasn’t in 2018), he is still an integral part of the operation due to his versatility, experience, leadership and communication skills as the on-field signal caller. This all becomes even more valuable considering the changes New England’s defense will undergo both on and off the field in 2018: standout edge defender Trey Flowers left via free agency, while four members of the team’s defensive staff did the same.

With new coaches coming in and some high-level changes along the front-seven — Flowers is not the only player leaving: Adrian Clayborn was released, Malcom Brown joined the New Orleans Saints — having a player of Hightower’s caliber on board is certainly valuable; despite him being scheduled to have the fifth-highest salary cap hit on the team at the moment.