The Jets tried hard, but the Patriots won. How many times has that been the story of the AFC East over the past 15 years?
Despite being courted heavily by the Jets in recent days, linebacker Dont’a Hightower will re-sign with the Patriots, his representatives, SportsTrust Advisors, announced on Twitter. Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reported early Wednesday that the Jets were offering Hightower $12 million per season; Hightower’s new contract with the Patriots will pay him a little more than $10 million on average—four years, $43.5 million, with $19 million guaranteed.
Per The MMQB’s Albert Breer, the Jets “pulled their offer after their meeting with [Hightower] concluded.” It’s unclear, at the moment, how much guaranteed money the Jets put on the table. Hightower also met with the Steelers this week, prior to accepting New England’s offer.
At $10.875 million per season, Hightower becomes the second highest-paid inside linebacker, behind only Carolina’s Luke Kuechly (approximately $12.4 million). Only Kuechly ($27 million) and Houston’s Brian Cushing ($21 million) are locked into more guaranteed money.
The Patriots reportedly offered Hightower a contract extension worth upwards of $10 million per year prior to the 2016 season, but he declined, set on testing the market. The eventual numbers would have been a high price tag either way, but it does appear that said market (read: the Jets) helped set. The Patriots, for their sit-and-wait approach, would have found it difficult to replace Hightower had he signed elsewhere. The 27-year-old linebacker serves as the centerpiece of their defense, and he just earned his first Pro Bowl berth.
Hightower is a three-down defender, who can be employed with equal confidence vs. the run and pass. He occasionally chips in as a blitzer, too, as he did with his strip-sack of Matt Ryan that turned the momentum of Super Bowl LI. Hightower has 17.0 regular-season sacks for his career.
The gamble in handing Hightower big bucks is that he’s been unable to stay healthy—he missed three games this past season and four in both 2014 and ’15. Should an injury force him to miss extensive time in the near future, that financial commitment will feel a lot weightier for the Patriots.
Still, Hightower has been there when it’s mattered. Even if the injuries do start to catch up with him more regularly, the guaranteed money—assuming this is a rather typical contract setup—could let the Patriots reconsider their options in a year or two.
For now, this is worth it, arguably even more so because the Patriots stuck it to the Jets in the process. The Patriots’ breakneck off-season rolls on. Grade: A–