Dont’a Hightower

East Rumors: Redskins, Elliott, Cutler

Redskins safety Su’a Cravens is expected to report to the team Tuesday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. 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 ESPN.com 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 NFL.com 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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 TheMMQB.com’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).

Extra Points: Hightower, Steelers, Fins, Clady

The Jetsdecision to withdraw their mammoth Dont’a Hightower offer after the linebacker’s physical may not represent an isolated view of where the linebacker is at in his career. Entering his sixth season, Hightower is viewed as a risk physically, and Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com notes his Patriots contract illustrates this (video link via CSNNE.com). Breer notes the four-year, $35.5MM (base value) contract contains more per-game roster bonuses than any other Patriot performer’s while also including sizable incentives based on playing time and potential Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors. He adds the Steelers shared the Jets’ concern about Hightower’s health, with Gang Green worrying Hightower wouldn’t last three or four more seasons. Hightower has missed 11 regular-season games the past three years.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • Defensive tackle will be on the Dolphins‘ agenda this week, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. The team hosted Dontari Poe on a visit and eventually saw the nose tackle agree to terms with the Falcons, but the Dolphins may have halted their pursuit because of budgetary concerns. Miami is looking for an interior defender at a cheaper rate, with Jackson noting the Dolphins would like to sign a player for around $2-$3MM per year. Miami has both Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips slated to start in 2017 but wants to further bolster this position. The Dolphins could pursue mid-tier players like Jonathan Babineaux, Tyrunn Walker, Vance Walker or Sen’Derrick Marks, Jackson writes. Miami has just more than $16MM in cap space but may be prepared to use a substantial portion of that on a Jarvis Landry extension.
  • Despite agreeing to terms with Ted Larsen, the Dolphins still intend to look for a guard in the draft, Jackson notes, adding the team is content to start Jermon Bushrod and Larsen at what have been its trouble spots up front. But the Fins want to seek additional guard enhancements.
  • The Seahawks saw one player shuttle out of their facility without a contract on Sunday. Ryan Clady left Seahawks headquarters without a contract, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times tweets, keeping the 10th-year left tackle unattached as he continues to search for a third NFL employer. The Seahawks have been the only team connected to Clady thus far since the Jets opted not to exercise his 2017 option. Although the Broncos are in need of a left tackle after declining Russell Okung‘s option, they have not expressed interest in a Clady reunion.
  • The Bengals reached an agreement to sign Kevin Minter, bolstering their defensive second level.

Latest On Jets’ Offer To Dont’a Hightower

The Jets offered linebacker Dont’a Hightower a deal with a maximum value of $62.5MM over five years, but grew reticent after seeing the results of Hightower’s physical, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.Dont'a Hightower (vertical)

While New York didn’t officially drop out of the running for Hightower after the physical was concluded, it essentially ceded negotiations to the Patriots, who re-signed Hightower on a four-year pact worth $35.5MM. For what it’s worth, Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link) says the Jets did in fact pull their offer to Hightower after his examination.

The base value of the Jets’ proposal was $55MM, reports Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, while the max value could have only been attained had Hightower played in every game and made the Pro Bowl in every year of the duration of the deal. At present, it’s not clear exactly what details of Hightower’s physical bothered the Jets, but as Cimini details, Hightower has dealt with recent knee and shoulder injuries.

Ultimately, Hightower’s Patriots contract will pay him roughly $1.25MM less per year than would the Jets’ offer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Details On Dont’a Hightower’s Deal

Sometimes, when agents are the first to leak details to the press, the initial reported value of free agent deals winds up being a bit inflated. It’s a natural part of the NFL these days but, fortunately, the truth quickly comes to light. Dont'a Hightower (vertical)

With that in mind, we’ve learned today that Dont’a Hightower‘s four-year, $43.5MM deal is actually worth less than that (via Albert Breer of The MMQB on Twitter). The true base value of the deal is $32MM. In each season, there are $875K worth of per-game roster bonuses, so $3.5MM of the deal will be contingent on Hightower’s health. Then, to satisfy the remaining $8MM gap and reach the full $43.5MM, Hightower would have to nail all of his playtime, Pro Bowl, and First-Team All-Pro incentives each year.

After word of sincere interest from the Jets and Steelers, it sounds like Hightower took a hometown discount to remain with the Patriots. Hightower entered March with hopes of fetching $12MM per year or more. Instead, he has a deal that is really worth somewhere between $8MM-$9MM on average with the potential to exceed $10MM, but only if he is recognized by the league as a megastar.

As a non-rush linebacker, Hightower doesn’t get the sacks and, in turn, doesn’t get the glory. Despite being an elite player for years, Hightower just received his first Pro Bowl nod in 2016 and has never been given First-Team All-Pro honors. Hightower could certainly hit those markers multiple times over the next four seasons, but he’s at a bit of a disadvantage. The $43.5MM value can’t be classified as “not likely to be earned,” but it’s also far from a slam dunk.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Re-Sign LB Dont’a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower isn’t going anywhere. He’s re-signing with the Patriots, according to his agents (on Twitter). It’s a four-year, $43.5MM deal, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The pact includes $19MM guaranteed. "<strong

Hightower also had offers from the Steelers and Jets. The Jets, at one point, reportedly offered upwards of $12MM per year, but Hightower actually rejected that offer two days ago and never considered signing there (via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald on Twitter). As I tweeted earlier today, that’s not a surprise. Few expected Hightower to ultimately leave the defending champs and all of his suitors seemed dubious about his openness to sign elsewhere.

Hightower was reportedly seeking around $12MM per year and the Patriots were rumored to be offering something in the $10MM/year range for the last few weeks. Based on what we know, it sounds like the Pats more or less met him in the middle – he gets an average annual value of $10.875MM with a decent amount in guarantees. Of course, we won’t have a full understanding of the deal until we know what the cashflow is like. If the majority of the guaranteed cash comes to the linebacker in the first two seasons, then we’ll chalk this up as a solid deal for Hightower and his agents at SportsTrust.

Regardless of the payout, Hightower automatically wins on two fronts. First, he re-signed with the Patriots and they were far and away his preferred landing spot. Secondly, he only signed for four years, so he’ll still be able to hit free agency before his age-31 season. If he continues to hold his position as the best non-rush linebacker in the NFL, he should be able to cash in again before the 2021 campaign.

Hightower finished the 2016 campaign with 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one forced fumble in 13 games. Before the start of free agency, we listed him as the best available linebacker in our free agent positional rankings. After the first wave of free agency saw cornerback A.J. Bouye and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery come off the board, Hightower was far and away the best player left on the open market.

Hightower is now the second-highest paid true linebacker in the NFL, based on AAV. Only Luke Kuechly of the Panthers ($12.4MM) earns more than him per year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Dont’a Hightower

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is slated to choose between three offers today, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. He’s deciding between the Steelers, Jets, and Patriots, though that’s not necessarily in order. Those close to the situation still believe he’ll remain in New England. Dont'a Hightower (Vertical)

The Jets, apparently, have offered “far and away” more money than anyone else. Still, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, he doesn’t seem inclined to accept Gang Green’s offer. The Jets have offered more than $12MM per season, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report hears (on Twitter).

The Steelers reportedly told Hightower their offer to him would disappear if he left town without signing on the dotted line. Hightower, it seems, is either still in Pittsburgh, or the Steelers were making an empty threat to coax him into signing.

All along, the expectation has been that Hightower would circle back to the defending champs. Still, money talks and this will probably be the largest deal the 27-year-old ever signs. Soon, we’ll know the verdict.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Have Largest Offer To Dont’a Hightower

The Jets are likely offering the largest contract to free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, who says Hightower will sign with New York if he’s “looking for the biggest financial score.” Gang Green is willing to hand Hightower a “blockbuster contract,” per Cimini, while Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets the Jets have “far and away the most money on the table.”Dont'a Hightower (Vertical)

Still, Hightower “doesn’t seem inclined” to accept the Jets’ offer, per La Canfora (Twitter link), which would jibe with reports indicating rival clubs expect Hightower to re-sign with the Patriots. If Hightower does sign with New York, the Jets would likely release long-time middle linebacker David Harris, paving the way for Hightower and 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee to play together in the club’s 3-4 scheme.

The Steelers are also involved in the Hightower sweepstakes, but Pittsburgh reportedly told Hightower its offer to him would disappear if he leaves town without signing on a dotted line. Hightower’s meeting with the Steelers has concluded, but it’s not readily clear if he’s left Pittsburgh, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link) Hightower is still in talks with the Steelers, Jets, and Patriots.

The Titans, meanwhile, are out on Hightower, as general manager Jon Robinson says his club never even met with Hightower.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.