Free agency is 24 hours in and one of the league’s biggest stars is still making the rounds and trying to decide his future, Dont’a Hightower. It is already been a hectic start to free agency for the Patriots, but they have made signings, trades (as I’m writing this) – Panthers Defensive End Kony Ealy, but arguably their most important piece is still an unknown. However, here are five reasons why I predict Hightower will resign with New England.
- Leadership Qualities – Since he has been in the league Dont’a Hightower has been a leader, just like he was back in 2011 when he was the captain of Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Replacing fellow middle linebacker Rolando McClain he led a young defense in five major categories; scoring defense (8.8 ppg), total defense (191.3 ypg), rushing defense (74.9 ypg), pass efficiency defense (83.9 ypg) and defense (116.3 ypg). He also led the team with a career-best 81 tackles that season. Despite being a young star in the making on defense, the only time you ever hear from him was on the football field. To his credit he has always stayed clear of any off the field incidents, and that remains even today since being drafted by New England.
- Alabama Crimson Tide Relationship – It seems as though there is always a steady line of communication between the New England Patriots and Alabama. The primary reason is due to the long time friendship of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Whether it’s pertaining to Alabama’s Pro Day and their players, the draft, or just football in general, these two are always talking steadily. So believe it or not, a big part of Dont’a being a key member of the Patriots the last few seasons and becoming one of the league’s premier middle linebackers, New England fans have the relationship to thank between Nick and Bill. Without Saban signing off on New England’s interest in Hightower back in 2012, he easily could have been elsewhere.
- The Patriots Chose Hightower – Dealing away guys like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins paving the way for others slotted a little higher on the priority list (ala Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower), it was clear to everyone that: A. They couldn’t pay all of the guys that were coming due for a new contract to maintain a young and upcoming defense. B. He was doing everything he needed to do to wait his turn while giving it his all. So more and more with two major talents removed from the team, a bunch of cap room to spend on their own (Cough… Hightower) or outside the organization, it now became clear it was a matter of when and not who they were prioritizing on their too due list. It’s now just a matter of not misreading the market financially by setting it themselves, and trusting he will give them the chance to have the last say when he comes back with offers from other teams. In New England it’s forever been about being compensated on a fair deal and not necessarily top dollar. But when all is said and done, he knows the Patriots chose him because he’s two of four left. The other one being Malcolm Butler who is here now, but until they lock him up you can never say never.
- Performing on the Biggest Stage – Two of the last three Super Bowls Dont’a Hightower has been a difference maker. I mean after all isn’t that what you would want out of your best players with a Championship at stake? Of course you do no brainer. Playoffs, Super Bowls like any other sport sometimes can be defining and really bring out the best in a player. Hightower getting there hasn’t been a problem playing for the Patriots, and when he has gotten in an opportunity he’s made his mark on the opposition. Back in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks Dont’a made a game saving tackle of Marshawn Lynch (Beast Mode) at the 1-yard line. Need I say anymore? Yup you guessed it Butler intercepted the very next play and the Patriots went on to win that Super Bowl 28-24. Then about six weeks ago in Super Bowl LI he sparked a historic comeback in Super Bowl history with a forced fumble that energized his team and brought them to life, and on their way to a second title in three years. What’s more to be said, the guy is a playmaker and he certainly knows how to win.
- Exemplifies being a “Patriot” – It takes a special person, player and more so leader. On and off the field he is all that. If you notice a guy of his caliber, on this team, just blends in, at times seems as though he goes unnoticed. He’s a team first guy. Also another example of that leading up to free agency and still is that he has kept a positive dialog with the Patriots. It is also worth noting that so far no one has been able to keep him, in any stop he has made so far. He came and left Miami, according to reports he did the same with the Titans. He is taken this seriously on both sides as an unrestricted free agent, and I wouldn’t expect anything else from a true Patriot like Hightower.
Next stop… Foxboro? We should be finding out real soon. My prediction is yes, he’s coming back home.