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Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower ranked as second best free agency linebacker this offseason

Related: J.C. Jackson not the only Patriots starter set to enter free agency in March

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New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ linebacker group could look a lot different next year. Even after re-signing Harvey Langi, three more players are set to enter unrestricted free agency in March. Among them is long-time team captain Dont’a Hightower, and he should have some suitors if he makes it to the open market.

Hightower, after all, is one of the better players at his position about to become a free agent. In fact, Pro Football Focus has ranked him second on its list of free agency linebackers this year:

2. DONT’A HIGHTOWER

PFF Free Agency Rank: 53

2021 Snaps: 679

2021 PFF grade: 50.6 (51st of 89)

Hightower opted out of the 2020 season, and after a bit of a slow start getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL game once more, he’s back to his old self. His 16 quarterback pressures rank tied for third among off-ball linebackers, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continues to deploy the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder all over the place in his constantly evolving defense. Hightower will be 32 years old in Week 1 of 2022, but there’s an argument that taking the 2020 season off has his body refreshed and revitalized.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $7.5m avg/yr

Coming off his Covid-19 opt-out in 2020, Hightower had a solid season for the Patriots. With him on the wrong side of 30 and the team possibly trying to get younger and faster at its linebacker position, however, his future with the organization is in question.

A first-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2012, Hightower has been a cornerstone of New England’s Dynasty 2.0 as well as a long-time team captain and defensive leader. In 2021, he appeared in 16 of a possible 18 games and was on the field for 59.8 percent of defensive snaps. He registered 1.5 sacks as well as 67 tackles.