Hightower was willing to sign the franchise tag, but the Pats have opted against potentially paying him roughly $14.7MM for the 2017 campaign. It’s not 100% clear whether the Patriots have decided against the transition tag, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be using that either. That tag would cost less but also wouldn’t entitle New England to draft pick compensation if Hightower signs elsewhere. Still, with plenty of cap space, the Patriots can likely match any offer Hightower scores on the open market.
Hightower clearly rates as the best linebacker available in free agency, even though non-rush linebackers typically do not get as much attention as their sack-compiling cohorts. After Hightower, Zach Brown, Kevin Minter, Perry Riley, and Lawrence Timmons represent some of the better LB options out there.
Hightower, 26, played in 13 games last season and racked up 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 12th-best linebacker among 87 qualifiers.
Hightower’s reps can begin speaking with teams on March 7th, when the legal tampering period begins. Starting on March 9th, free agents are allowed to sign with clubs.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.