The Patriots have chosen not to retain several key defensive players from their last two Super Bowl teams – Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Logan Ryan.
But linebacker Dont’a Hightower is coming back, his agents confirmed. The Patriots’ defensive captain re-signed with the Patriots on Wednesday after a week-long free agency tour that took him to the Jets and Steelers. Hightower’s deal is for four years and $43.5 million, with $19 million guaranteed, according to his agents.
The Jets reportedly had more money on the table for Hightower, and the Steelers gave him a take-it-or-leave-it offer on Tuesday when he visited Pittsburgh. But Hightower, who just turned 27 on Saturday, decided to return to New England, where he has played his entire five-year career since the Patriots made him a first-round pick in 2012.
Hightower sat atop most lists of the top free agents available, but didn’t quite have the market that he was expecting. Collins struck it big with $26 million over two years from the Browns, and Jones just re-signed for $51 million over three years from the Cardinals, but Hightower’s market was more modest, given questions about his durability and a unique skill set that fits the Patriots well, but not many other teams.
Hightower has played in 67 of a possible 80 regular season games (64 starts), with 17 sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety. He has played in an additional 12 playoff games in five seasons, adding an interception, a forced fumble and a sack.
He has played through multiple shoulder and knee injuries in his career, but has played in at least 12 games every season.
Hightower has been the Patriots’ defensive signal-caller the past two seasons, taking on a coveted role that has previously been held by Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi.
And Hightower has come up big in the Patriots’ biggest moments. In Super Bowl XLIX, Hightower shrugged off a blocker and made a diving tackle of Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line to save a touchdown, leading to Malcolm Butler’s interception on the next play. In Super Bowl LI, Hightower’s sack-strip of Matt Ryan midway through the fourth quarter propelled the Patriots to the greatest comeback victory in Super Bowl history.