A new deal between the Patriots and free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower is “not imminent,” reports Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (all Twitter links). New England could employ the franchise or transition tag on Hightower before Wednesday’s deadline, but it’s unclear whether the club will use that option. If they do, it could be a sign the two sides are nearing an extension that would supersede the tag, per Howe.
Hightower has indicated a willingness to sign the franchise tag, which would pay him roughly $14.7MM for the 2017 campaign. But the Patriots are also reportedly considering deploying the transition tag, which will cost less but also wouldn’t entitle New England to draft pick compensation if Hightower signs elsewhere. The Patriots have plenty of cap space, however, and would likely be able to match any offer Hightower scores on the open market.
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.
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