The New England Patriots are set to kick off their mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, and one of the team’s long-time cornerstones will not be present. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned in free agency, and the expectation is that his status will not change soon.
Hightower, after all, has still not made a decision whether or not he will extend his NFL career into an 11th year. If he decides to do so, however, it appears a reunion with the Patriots certainly seems possible: according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, New England “would welcome him back with open arms.”
A key member 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 resumed his already legendary career last offseason.
Hightower went on to appear in 16 of 18 possible games and play 59.8 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in 2021. Primarily used on early downs, he registered a combined 67 tackles — 38 of them versus the run — as well as 10 quarterback disruptions, including 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 only two members of the Patriots’ free agency class that still remain unsigned. The other is fellow linebacker Jamie Collins.