The Jets and Patriots are currently the favorites to land free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (via Twitter). However, La Canfora notes that several other clubs are closely monitoring the situation.
We learned yesterday that New England was still interested in re-signing Hightower, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this season. The Alabama product finished the 2016 campaign with 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one forced fumble in 13 games, and he was listed as the best available linebacker in our free agent positional rankings. Until today, however, no one other than the Patriots had been definitively connected to Hightower (although another AFC East club, the Dolphins, have been mentioned as a possible fit).
Needless to say, the Jets and Patriots are in very different places as far as their immediate championship prospects, so Gang Green may have to outbid New England by a wide margin if they want to lure Hightower away from Foxborough. The Patriots, though, still have plenty of money to spend, and none of their other options offer the type of production that Hightower does from the middle linebacker spot, so they may be inclined to match a larger offer from another club, even if they were unwilling to use the franchise or transition tag on Hightower. New England typically embraces a “next man up” philosophy, but the team may make an exception in this case.
The market is capped for a non-rush ‘backer like Hightower, but he is among the best at what he does, and he has also been lauded for his intangibles. Coming off another Super Bowl championship, he may be willing to join a rebuilding team like the Jets if the money is right. However, just yesterday we heard that one team involved in Hightower talks is convinced he will remain with the Pats.
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