One of the best available free agents this offseason tested the market, but is staying home. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will re-sign with the New England Patriots, his agents announced Wednesday afternoon.
Hightower also drew interest from the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, among other teams, but was always considered likely to stay with New England. The contract he signed, according to a subsequent report from NFL Network, is worth $43.5 million over four years and contains $19 million in guarantees.
That contract makes him one of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. Not including 3-4 outside linebackers (who are mostly pure pass-rushers and would thus have their contracts compared to 4-3 defensive ends), Hightower’s $43.5 million in total cash ranks seventh at the position, while the $10.875 million average annual value ranks second, and the $19 million guarantee checks in third.
Hightower is one of the most important pieces of New England’s defense, but the Patriots still let him test the market for a while before he decided to return. The Jets apparentlyto secure his services, baking him some cupcakes, sending Jets gear to his mother and reportedly offering a deal that averaged over $12 million per year, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.
Both New York and Pittsburgh came away from their meetings with Hightower convinced that he would remain with New England, and he did.
During his first five seasons with the Patriots, Hightower recorded 404 combined tackles, 17 sacks and 13 passes defensed in 67 games. He was New England’s first-round pick back in 2012 and has been a starter his entire career. The 2016 season was the first time in his career that he made the Pro Bowl, and he was named a second-team All-Pro as well.