With the NFL turning its attention away from free agency and towards the upcoming draft, players that remain unsigned have seen limited movement recently. The New England Patriots have four of those at the moment, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
The team captain entered unrestricted free agency in mid-March but has not taken any visits or received any reported interest. It remains to be seen whether or not any of this changes after the draft, but according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe his free agency experience might not come to a quick end.
Hightower is reportedly “still figuring out what he wants to do” heading towards what would be his 11th season in the NFL.
A cornerstone of the New England defense ever since his arrival as a first-round draft pick in 2012, Hightower helped the organization win three Super Bowls and was voted to its Team of the 2010s. He sat out the 2020 season due to concerns about Covid-19, but returned last offseason to continue his career.
Hightower went on to appeared in 16 of 18 possible games and play 59.8 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps. Primarily, but not exclusively, used on early downs, he registered a combined 67 tackles — 38 of them versus the run — as well as 10 combined quarterback disruptions; among those were 1.5 sacks. Hightower’s return did help improve a position group that struggled mightily without him in the lineup the previous season.
All in all, however, his season was an inconsistent one. He did have some encouraging moments and was a valuable member of the club both on and off the field, but also failed to come up big in some moments that the team needed him to.
Now, he is one of four Patriots free agents still unsigned. The others are fellow linebacker Jamie Collins as well as defensive tackle Carl Davis and tight end Troy Fumagalli.
One big deadline for all of them will be May 2. That day marks the official end of free agency as defined by the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargain Agreement; players signed afterwards will no longer count against the league’s compensatory draft picks formula.