Well this isn’t the news everyone was waiting for. The Patriots have informed Dont’a Hightower’s agents that they will not be using the franchise tag on him and that the Patriots LB will test the open market.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that although New England will not tag Hightower, they still have plans to bring him back in a Patriots uniform.
Hightower is the glue of the Patriots front seven and they frankly have no one on the roster at this point that is capable of replacing him. Hightower is big (6’3, 265-pounds), and very athletic for a man of his size. He’s a downhill, physical run-stuffer that is capable of blitzing up the A-gaps or from the edge and is surprisingly good in coverage considering his size.
In both Super Bowl LI and XLIX, Hightower made big plays at crunch time to allow the Patriots to escape with the victory. In the latter, he stuffed Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line which set up the Malcolm Butler interception that sealed the win.
Just a few weeks ago, he stripped sacked Matt Ryan which gave the Patriots a short field, that resulted in a touchdown where the Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit to tie things up late in regulation before winning the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
Hightower will turn 27 in March and was a 1st round draft pick, 25th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was named a captain this season for the first time in his career.
He logged 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a safety, eight QB hits and 2 passes defensed this season. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 6 when he made 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits and a safety against Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the Patriots are justifiably concerned with Hightower’s injury history, he’s missed time in every season but 2013, they don’t have another player of his caliber at the position. The team still has nine days to work out a long-term deal with him. If he reaches free agency on March 9 at 4:00 p.m., he’s as good as gone.