New England Patriots Receive Strong Grade for Dont'a Hightower Signing

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been very active in the free agency period.

In his route back to New England, Hightower reportedly declined a more lucrative deal from the New York Jets.

The underdog Jets appear to be players in this thing because the Steelers, out of fear of being used in order to drive up the price on the Patriots, told Hightower if he left Pittsburgh without signing a contract the offer would be off the table, the NFL Network reported Tuesday night.

It is a bit surprising to see Hightower get nearly $2 million less per year than Collins, though. Hightower also met with the Pittsburgh Steelers according to Adam Schefter, and the Tennessee Titans earlier in free agency. Hightower will earn $10.9 million. The NFL Media Research Group tweeted one such stat on Wednesday, determining that the Patriots defense allowed one more yard per play without Hightower on the field in 2016. Once Hightower completed the courtship process the way he desired, the two sides worked out the acceptable deal.

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Essentially, the Patriots painted themselves into a corner in terms of their need at Hightower's middle linebacker spot. He had a career-high six sacks in 2014 and just six combined the past two regular seasons. He also forced a pair of momentum-turning safeties against the Browns and Bengals, had five tackles against the run for no gain or negative yards and drew a holding penalty as a pass rusher.

Hightower is a great player.

Dont'a Hightower forces a fumble by Matt Ryan during the Super Bowl.

Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny, and Kyle Van Noy could continue to be solid rotational linebackers behind Hightower moving forward. The Patriots, for their sit-and-wait approach, would have found it hard to replace Hightower had he signed elsewhere. They have been uncharacteristically aggressive over the past week, signing Stephon Gilmore to a monster deal and making a trade for Brandin Cooks. "Happy Birthday Dont'a Hightower" was shown on the screens inside the Jets' facility in Florham Park, New Jersey, and the team sent Hightower's mother some Jets merchandise.

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