It’s been an interesting couple of weeks as Dont’a Hightower made the rounds to the Titans, Jets and Steelers, but in the end found that the best fit was to remain in New England according to Adam Schefter.
Dont’a Hightower is returning to the New England Patriots, sources tell ESPN. New England’s off-season rolls on.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2017
I was slightly pessimistic about Hightower’s chances of returning once he was set to hit the open market. What I underestimated is how Hightower’s skillset is somewhat of a unique fit in New England. While I’m sure he would’ve been fine in the Jets or Steelers system, the Patriots know exactly how what to do with the 260-pound linebacker.
But how do the Patriots use Hightower? By the end of the 2016 season, he would often play at a traditional inside linebacker spot on early downs, although when the Patriots employed their “6-1” look, Hightower would slide to the weakside outside linebacker spot where he was strong setting the edge. On passing downs the Patriots used Hightower often as a blitzer. And I think this is a good excuse to post one of my favorite GIFs from SB51 as an example.
The deal is a strong one for Hightower and locks him up in New England for the next four seasons where he’ll continue to be the core leader of the defense. I couldn’t wrap my head around a world where the Pats would lose Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Hightower, and luckily that world does not exist.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 15, 2017
At just about $11 million per season, this is a solid deal and it’s possible the Pats came up a bit from a $10 million-per-year average based on some of the interest by the Jets and Steelers.
Regardless the defense just got a whole lot more stable. I was worried if Hightower left it might result in a 2005-esque defensive year where the Pats lost Roman Phifer, Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi (albeit to a stroke) and had one of their worst defensive years under Belichick. Now the Pats must still find a young linebacker or two in the draft to groom under Hightower, preferably ones that can cover.
Now all attention turns to Malcolm Butler who is scheduled to visit the Saints on Thursday.