First off, I’m not writing this to make you mad. I’m really not. It’s just the way I feel, not in a “woah is us” or “we’re doomed” kind of trolling way, but just in an “I’ve been doing this so long I think this is how it’s going to play out” kind of deal.
Second, I love watching Dont’a Hightower play football. I don’t need to recap the big plays he’s made (there are GIFs for that), nor how important he is to the defense, besides the fact that there are no other three-down linebackers on the roster.
I would love nothing more than for the Patriots to sign him to a long term deal.
Unfortunately I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
If he leaves the Pats will be okay. The Pats defense will evolve again, maybe take some kind of step backwards, but they’ll pull it together at the end like they always do. That’s about great coaching more than anything. If the 2011 defense can make a Super Bowl run, just about any can. But of course, everyone wants that one big time linebacker in the middle of their defense and finding big time players who make big time plays in big time moments is damn hard. We’ll discuss the fallout of all that if/when Hightower does walk.
The window for using the Franchise Tag has passed. The Patriots now have one week to work out a long-term deal with Hightower, but realistically he’s going to hit free agency and find out what the rest of the league thinks of him. Devin McCourty did the same, and it took a last-minute counter offer from the Pats to keep him.
On Tuesday teams can start reaching out to Hightower. They’ll lay out their offers, then the Pats will see if they want to match or let him go and then it will be decision time for Dont’a.
Now this is where I get to the opinion part. This isn’t based on sources or anything other than my Patriots football blogging intuition. You can yell at me. Maybe I’m wrong. Well, I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am.
One of the things that stood out to me was Hightower saying at the Super Bowl that his favorite player was Jamie Collins. It’s not crazy to think the Pats sending Collins packing mid-season had a major effect on Hightower. They had been together since 2013 and basically were the heart and soul of the defense, at least when they were both on the field at the same time.
I’m not saying he was completely blindsided. Hightower knows how this all works, especially in New England. But I do think it bugged him, at the least. And maybe it even pissed him off. Who knows. I don’t. Remember, this is speculation here. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t shrug it off and continue about his business like he didn’t give a shit about Collins. It was just a stiff reminder it Belichick’s way or the highway. No matter who you are.
Hightower didn’t have a great 2016, but the game-changing forced fumble in the Super Bowl sure puts a rosy tint on it. He played just about half the snaps in the AFC Championship. That was most likely the Pats managing his injuries, since he played every Super Bowl snap, but still, there’s plenty of injury ammo there for the Pats to nitpick when it comes to contract talk.
Now put yourself in Hightower’s shoes. You’ve won two Super Bowls in the first five years of your career. Are you going to take any kind of lesser deal to stay in New England and deal with Belichick? The guy who unceremoniously sent one of your closest teammates to the Browns in the middle of the season? The guy who runs New England like a high-pressure football nerd school where pop quizzes in the facility hallway are a way of life?
Or are you going to take the most money possible from a team that will not only be ecstatic to get you but won’t decide to send you packing the second they think you’re not playing the way they want you to? Maybe you’ll never get another Super Bowl but oh well, life’s too short to spend countless hours in a football pressure cooker if it’s not what you truly love.
Hightower already has two rings. There isn’t a lot left for him to prove. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he loves winning football games more than anything else. Maybe he sees a chance at another three-out-of-four dynasty in New England and wants to lead the way. Maybe he wants to be put right up there with Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest as legendary Patriots linebackers when he’s all done. Those guys played in five Super Bowls, so yes, there are still mountains for Hightower to climb in New England.
But outside of New England things will be a lot easier and a lot more lucrative. I can’t fault him for seeing those things as appealing. I hope he decides to stay, but I just can’t shake the feeling he’s ready for a change and is kind of looking forward to sending a small “this was for Jamie” FU in BB’s direction.
We’ll find out next week…