While the Patriots haven’t yet re-signed linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the pending free agent engaged in a “positive conversation” with head coach Bill Belichick last week, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Hightower is open to staying in New England, but is also gauging his value on the open market, per Rapoport.
Contrary to other reports, the Patriots “didn’t even explore” the option of using the transition tag on Hightower, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (video link). The transition tender would have given New England the right of first refusal on any contract offer Hightower might received. If they didn’t consider the transition tag, it’s fair to assume the Patriots didn’t think about deploying the franchise tender (at a cost of $14.55MM).
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. Given that the Patriots have already traded away other key defenders such as Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, Hightower may be the last man standing when New England decides where to spend its free agent dollars.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.