Dont'a Hightower

Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower To Opt Out Of 2020 Season

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower will opt out of the 2020 season, as Ian Rapoport of tweets. Hightower wrestled with the decision, but ultimately decided to skip the season in order to protect his 2-week-old son. 

Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower explained.

With that, Hightower becomes the fifth Patriots player to opt out. Running back Brandon Bolden, right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale, and guard Najee Toran have also decided against playing. Hightower is the highest profile player of the Pats bunch, and one of the more notable players league-wide to opt out.

Hightower was slated to make $8MM in base salary before reaching free agency in March. Now, his contract will toll, with that final year being moved to 2021. With Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts out of the picture, the Patriots were counting on Hightower to hold down the fort at linebacker. There aren’t a ton of impact off-ball linebackers left on the open market, so the Patriots will likely have to work with what they have on hand.

Hightower, 30, has been a staple in the Patriots’ starting lineup since entering the league in 2012. Injuries aside – including a mostly lost 2017 – he’s served as the club’s locker room leader and the point guard of the defense. Last year, Hightower earned his second Pro Bowl trip and even managed 5.5 sacks from the middle.

Hightower’s opt-out falls under the “voluntary” label, meaning that he’s entitled to a $150K salary advance (likely negated by his 2020 earnings to date). Cannon, meanwhile, is “higher risk,” which means he’ll get a $350K stipend (Twitter link via’s Tom Pelissero). Cannon had two years to go on his current deal with a total of $9.5MM in base pay. His contract will also toll, with his 2020 season being bumped up to 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots’ Hightower Won’t Take Pay Cut

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower is unwilling to accept a pay cut this offseason, according to Doug Kyed of The Pats have yet to approach Hightower about a pay reduction, however, so it may be a moot point. 

It has been speculation that Hightower could be a cap casualty due to his nearly $11MM cap hit and $7MM salary for the upcoming season. If released, Hightower knows that he would find a ripe market for his services with teams like the Lions and Dolphins in need of a middle linebacker. The Pats, meanwhile, would save $5.945MM and carry a dead money hit charge of $5MM.

Hightower, 29 in March, was healthy in 2018, which was a step up from his five-game campaign in 2017. However, his 48 tackles were the lowest total of any full season in his career. The advanced metrics were down on him, too. He graded out as just the No. 51 ranked linebacker in the NFL with a career-worst 63.7 mark. Along with the 48 tackles, Hightower had three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, an interception, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.

Hightower re-upped with the Patriots in 2017 on a four-year pact worth $35.5MM. He reportedly had a five-year deal worth $62.5MM on the table from the Jets, but opted to stay at home instead.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Place Dont’a Hightower On IR

The Patriots have officially placed Dont’a Hightower on injured reserve, according to Field Yates of (on Twitter). This was the expected move after the linebacker suffered a torn pectoral muscle in October, though there was some hope that he could return to action after resting for a period of time.Dont'a Hightower (Vertical)

League rules dictate that players who are placed on IR must be out of action for at least eight weeks. With only eight games to go, his season is now officially over.

Without Hightower, the Patriots have been using veteran David Harris as the starting middle linebacker with Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy on the strong side and weak side, respectively. They’ve fortified the front seven by signing outside linebacker Trevor Reilly in October and adding defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois earlier today, but Hightower’s production and leadership cannot be easily replaced.

Hightower’s season ends with five appearances, two sacks, and 14 total tackles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower Done For Season?

3:35pm: Hightower underwent surgery to repair the damaged pectoral muscle on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of tweets. Rapoport adds the veteran linebacker is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2018 season.

10:30am: The Patriots still do not know if Hightower will be out for the year, Adam Schefter of tweets. Hightower will visit Dr. James Andrews to get a better assessment of the damage.

9:51am: Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral, according to Ian Rapoport of (on Twitter). The Pats are expected to formally place him on injured reserve on Thursday afternoon. Dont'a Hightower (Vertical)

Losing Hightower is a major blow to the Patriots’ defense. As the team’s middle linebacker, Hightower was essentially the leader of the front seven and the extension of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on the field.

Hightower missed two of the Pats’ games in September and his absence was noticeable. Heading into Week 4, the usually solid Pats ranked dead last in the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, and defensive DVOA. They can draw from a reserve group including Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts (missed Sunday’s game with an injury of his own), David Harris, Marquis Flowers, and Trevor Reilly, but it would make sense for them to explore available MLBs between now and the Halloween trade deadline.

Hightower, 27, 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. In the spring, he was rewarded with a four-year, $43.5MM deal, including $19MM guaranteed. The Patriots’ decision to keep Hightower and re-sign him on a large contract underscored his importance after they traded away other key defenders such as Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Patriots, Hightower, Cutler

The Patriots were aware of Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the offseason when he was on the block and Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (Twitter link) wonders if he could be a consideration for them now that Dont’a Hightower is dealing with a serious pectoral injury.

Kendricks has long been talked about as a trade candidate and he even requested a trade himself back in January. However, he has become vital to the team in the wake of Jordan Hicks‘ season-ending Achilles tear. Kendricks was on the field for 55 snaps in Week 6 and probably would have been in line for lots of burn last week if not for a hamstring injury. With a 6-1 record, the Eagles probably aren’t inclined to trade away a key defender like Kendricks before the deadline.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • If he’s ruled out for the season, Hightower will lose out on $2.6MM+ in bonuses from the Patriots due to the torn pectoral and his previous knee injuries, Howe tweets. Hightower’s deal includes extra cash based on per-game play and play-time as well as Pro Bowl and All-Pro appearances.
  • Despite his cracked ribs, Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler is expected to be available a week from Sunday vs. Oakland, a source tells Adam Schefter of (on Twitter). However, he will not be able to suit up for Thursday night’s game against Baltimore.
  • The Patriots had wide receiver Jake Kumerow and fullback Marquez Williams in for free agent workouts on Wednesday, Mike Reiss of tweets. Kumerow was signed to the practice squad on Thursday morning.

AFC Notes: Pats, Browns, Raiders, Dolphins

Dont’a Hightower is expected to return to action for the Patriots on Sunday after missing each of the club’s past two games with a knee sprain, a source tells Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. New England, notably, ranks dead last in the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, and defensive DVOA. With the Patriots’ defense clearly missing its leader, Hightower’s return can’t come too soon. As Howe writes, New England had been using Hightower as an edge defender, but several defensive mistakes could lead the Pats to shift Hightower back to his natural off-ball linebacker position. Elandon Roberts, and possibly Kyle Van Noy, will likely see his snaps reduced as a result of Hightower’s return.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • While Hightower will be back on the field in New England, the same can’t be said for Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Bengals, reports Mary Kay Cabot of Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, hasn’t played a regular season down this year as he deals with a high ankle sprain. Browns head coach Hue Jackson has hinted on multiple occasions that Garrett is “close” to returning, but the Texas A&M product will have to wait until at least Week 5 to make his NFL debut. Without Garrett in tow, Cleveland ranks just 23rd in adjusted sack rate.
  • Raiders cornerback Sean Smith pleaded not guilty on charges of assault and battery stemming from an alleged July altercation, as Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes. The details of the incident are rather sordid, but Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio indicated the club would stand behind Smith until the legal process runs its course. On the field, Smith is no longer starting just one year after agreeing to a four-year, $38MM free agent contract. Thus far, he’s played only a quarter of the Raiders’ defensive snaps, fourth among Oakland corners.
  • Punter Brandon Fields has announced his retirement from the NFL following a nine-year career, his agent announced on Twitter. Fields, 33, last played for the Saints in 2015, but is most well-known for his eight-season run with the Dolphins from 2007-14. The former seventh-round pick appeared in 130 career games and maintained a yards per punt average of 46.7.

East Rumors: Redskins, Elliott, Cutler

Redskins safety Su’a Cravens is expected to report to the team Tuesday, according to Ian Rapoport of Cravens, of course, informed the club several weeks ago that he intended to retire only to reverse his decision almost immediately. Cravens has been in contact with head coach Jay Gruden, and the two have discussed football and life issues. As Rapoport suggests, the fact that Cravens is reporting does not necessarily mean that he will suit up right away, given that he is battling an injury and, as his recent history suggests, may be at a crossroads in his young life. Nonetheless, it is a positive step for one of the more promising defensive talents in the league.

Now for more from the league’s east divisions:

  • The Redskins reshuffled their front office in June, but per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the team considered adding another executive during training camp. Washington reportedly brought in James “Shack” Harris, Charles Bailey, Bill Kuharich, and Ron Hill to watch practice and meet with other staffers, but the team ultimately decided to stand pat and does not plan to make any other additions at this time.
  • Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has never been arrested or charged with a crime, but since June 2014, Elliott’s name has appeared in at least four investigations concerning assault, battery, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct, as Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News writes. The entire piece is well worth a read, and it suggests a troubling pattern of behavior that Elliott will need to correct in order to live up to his sky-high potential.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler has impressed the team with his demeanor and work ethic, and if he plays well this season, Salguero writes that Miami would consider re-signing him and trading Ryan Tannehill, thereby creating a great deal of cap room and netting an early draft choice in the process. We are a long way from that happening, of course, but if Cutler somehow becomes a modern-day Jim Plunkett, Tannehill could be on a different sideline in 2018.
  • We recently learned that the Dolphins were interested in trading for Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that Miami went hard after the star DB, making attempts to land him both back early in the free-agency signing period and as recently as last month.
  • Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower was riding a stationary bike after he left the team’s Week 1 contest with a right knee injury, leading to optimism that he might be ready for Week 2. However, Mike Reiss of reports that Hightower sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews last week, which Hightower did not deny. Problems with his right knee forced Hightower to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and given that New England’s defense clearly needs him, this is a situation worth monitoring.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Barnidge, Texans, Pats

A “near mutiny” among Bengals players left head coach Marvin Lewis no choice but to fire offensive coordinator Ken Zampese on Friday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports. The Bengals’ best offensive player, wide receiver A.J. Green, was part of the unhappy bunch, notes Florio, though Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer disputes the notion that there was anything resembling a “mutiny” (Twitter link). There was a disconnect between Zampese and the players, though, Owczarski adds. The Zampese-led Bengals scored a mere nine points in the team’s first two games, both losses, and the offense racked up just 516 yards in that span. Green posted respectable production along the way, picking up 10 receptions for 141 yards, but new O-coordinator Bill Lazor is going to have to involve him (and the Bengals’ other top skill players) in their attack more, Florio observes. Green agrees, having told reporters after Thursday night’s 13-9 loss to Houston: “We are playing like sh– right now. We got to find a way to get our playmakers the ball. That’s it. It’s a superstar-driven league. You are not going to win without them” (via Paul Dehner Jr. of the Enquirer).

More from the AFC:

  • It appears free agent tight end Gary Barnidge‘s stay on the unemployment line will continue. Barnidge worked out for the Texans on Friday, but they’re not going to sign him, Ian Rapoport of suggests (on Twitter). The team opted to add tight end MyCole Pruitt to its practice squad after his own Friday tryout. Barnidge carries a more impressive track record than Pruitt and many other tight ends, of course, having logged quality seasons in Cleveland over each of the previous two campaigns. However, the 31-year-old hasn’t been able to find work since the Browns released him after the draft.
  • The Patriots will go without linebacker Dont’a Hightower and wide receiver Danny Amendola in New Orleans on Sunday, Mike Reiss of writes. Hightower suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter of Week 1 against the Chiefs, perhaps helping to pave the way for a late-game collapse from New England’s defense. The Patriots yielded 21 fourth-quarter points en route to a 42-27 loss. Amendola, who was the Patriots’ leading receiver against the Chiefs (six catches, 100 yards), is dealing with a concussion and a knee injury. Down Amendola, Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, the Pats look poised to take on the Saints with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as their only options in a suddenly thin receiving corps.
  • The Luckless Colts have settled on a quarterback for Week 2.

AFC Notes: Raiders, Fins, Hightower, Broncos

A thorough piece regarding the Raiders‘ move to Las Vegas revealed that Mark Davis was considering a move to Sin City as far back as 2014. While Davis’ intentions with Vegas didn’t become public until 2016, a dinner with NFL executive VP — and stadium-financing point man — Eric Grubman he wanted to take the Raiders to the desert. But Grubman was far more skeptical at the time. “Mark, you’ll never get approved to Las Vegas,” Grubman said, via Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham of ESPN.They’ll oppose it on principle. It’s not gonna happen.” Davis described it as a “good market” at the time and eventually won out, largely because of Oakland’s inability to craft a stadium plan the NFL viewed as viable.

Here’s more on the Raiders and the latest coming out of the AFC.

  • Sheldon Adelson did attempt to force Davis into giving him a stake in the Raiders. Davis refused, and part of Adelson’s removal from the project stemmed from the NFL owners having doubts about the casino mogul’s involvement. Van Natta and Wickersham allude to Adelson being irate at the Raiders for their tactics during this relocation push. This could be something to monitor down the line, with Davis and Adelson set to operate as high-powered figures in the same city relatively soon.
  • Dolphins owner Stephen Ross viewed the team’s exit of a top market as questionable. Miami’s top decision-maker wondered if the Raiders should be stripped from the NFL’s revenue-sharing program for a decade because of the team downsizing considerably in market size — going from No. 6 to No. 40 — and accepting $200MM via NFL loan, the ESPN reporters note. Ross was the lone dissenter among NFL owners regarding the Raiders’ move to Nevada.
  • Dont’a Hightower has bonuses of $54K per game during each contest within the four-year deal he signed to stay with the Patriots, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports. Hightower also has $2MM per year in incentives that are largely tied to playing time. The middle linebacker would receive $375K if he played in 65 percent of the Pats’ snaps, plus separate $250K incentives for 70 and 75 percent snap counts. Another $125K would come Hightower’s way if he took part in 80 percent of New England’s defensive plays. This seems to tie into the kind of health-based concerns the Jets and Steelers had when considering (and offering) Hightower. He played in just more than 67 percent of New England’s defensive snaps last season.
  • A scenario involving a Jets trade of their 2017 first-round pick for a 2018 first-rounder — in an attempt to corner the quarterback market via two first-round picks next year — doesn’t make as much sense, Rich Cimini of notes. Despite the belief better quarterbacks will be in that draft, the job security for Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles is not strong enough to make this kind of transaction. New York has been linked to Mitch Trubisky at No. 6 but obviously selected Christian Hackenberg last year before signing Josh McCown. Another rookie might stall an effort for Bowles to convince ownership the Jets are headed in the right direction.
  • The Broncos took the third-fewest snaps out of the shotgun (411) in the league last season, but that figure is expected to rise. Mike McCoy is expected to incorporate more gun looks, likely with an eye on aiding Paxton Lynch‘s development, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post notes. Lynch told Jhabvala he’s “excited” about more shotgun sets being implemented because of his work in that formation at Memphis. McCoy famously made radical changes to Denver’s offense during his first stint as OC, tailoring an offense to Tim Tebow‘s unique abilities midway through the 2011 season before pivoting back to a pass-first attack once Peyton Manning arrived in 2012. Lynch, though, may have work to do to unseat Trevor Siemian, who fared much better in Gary Kubiak‘s offense.

Extra Points: Raiders, Steelers, Jeffery

The city of Oakland is attempting a last-ditch effort to keep the Raiders in advance of what promises to be a seminal vote Monday at the owners’ meetings. But this latest $1.3 billion proposal may not be enough to stop the owners from green-lighting a Las Vegas move. Oakland’s updated pitch “did not move the chains forward” with the NFL, Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News reports (on Twitter). The league is reviewing the proposal, but Bonsignore adds (Twitter link) the core issues at the root of the NFL’s reluctance regarding this project are not resolved. Bonsignore does not estimate the project can move forward (Twitter link) as presently constructed, setting the stage for a possible third Raiders relocation. This belief would stand to continue the league’s pessimism on the Oakland front.

Here’s the latest from Oakland and the rest of the NFL.

  • The Fortress Investment Group’s involvement in this project may not be a plus investment for the Raiders, who would “have to be in desperate straits” to sign up for an arrangement in which the team wouldn’t have much stake in its own stadium, Stanford economics professor Roger Noll said, via J.K. Dineen of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Even if Las Vegas doesn’t work out, the Raiders could get a better deal in San Diego or St. Louis,” Noll said. “There has never been a major league sports team that has had a deal like this where a third party is the main financier of the stadium and the main beneficiary of the revenue it generates.” The project would in large part be financed by a Fortress loan of $600MM, along with another $500MM loan backed by seat licensing fees, Dineen reports.
  • Dont’a Hightower agreed to take less money from the Patriots than he would have gotten from the Jets as a UFA, but the Steelers also offered the linebacker a better deal, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. Pittsburgh offered the sixth-year linebacker a deal that would have paid him more then $9MM per year. He signed to stay with the Patriots for $8.7MM AAV. However, both the Steelers and Jets were concerned with Hightower’s health. This led to the Jets pulling their offer after Hightower’s physical. La Canfora adds the Jets and Steelers felt they were being used as leverage during this process.
  • Mark Sanchez‘s one-year Bears deal is worth $2MM, with $1MM guaranteed, Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports (on Twitter). The journeyman backup can earn another $2MM in incentives.
  • A thorough piece on Adam Schefter — by’s Tim Rohan — revealed a phone conversation ESPN’s chief NFL reporter had with Alshon Jeffery during the first day of free agency. Rohan reports Jeffery called Schefter asking him how much money the other UFA wide receivers were going to sign for. “It’s all about the guarantee, Alshon,” Schefter said, per Rohan, who noted players sometimes call the longtime NFL reporter with similar queries. “It’s all about the guarantee … Your average per year could be $100 million. It doesn’t matter. If they’re going to guarantee you the majority of the contract, that’s what you want.” Jeffery, who signed with the Eagles, does not remember the events unfolding like this. “I NEVER sought advice from media before I decided to sign my contract with the Eagles,” Jeffery tweeted. The wideout who is attempting to shake off an injury- and suspension-marred past two years signed with Philadelphia for one year and $9.5MM ($8.75MM guaranteed).