Hightower: 'Big shoes to fill' following Mayo as Patriots captain

Hightower: 'Big shoes to fill' following Mayo as Patriots captain

FOXBORO -- When Jerod Mayo patrolled the Patriots locker room as one of the team's captains, younger players learned how to go about their business by watching him go about his. 

Now that Mayo has retired, one of his former understudies has been asked to replace him.

Fifth-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower, elected a Patriots captain for the first time in his career on Tuesday, knows he'll have his work cut out for him as he follows in Mayo's footsteps, but he'll continue to lean on lessons learned from his former teammate even in Mayo's absence.

"Everything about Mayo kind of says he's a leader," Hightower said on Wednesday. "The way he carries himself on the field and off the field. I've had the luxury of being a sponge under him for four years so growing up watching him, I've kind of just watched his mannerisms and the way he's watched things so I'll do my best to uphold that."

While Hightower might try to take a similar approach to the one Mayo did, he won't try to be Mayo. In the past he has been open about how difficult it was for him as he filled in for Mayo as one of the team's primary signal-callers in the middle of the defense back in 2013. He put too much pressure on himself in that instance to do things like his then-injured teammate.

Now more comfortable in his own style, and as one of the team's most important players the last two years, Hightower is better equipt to handle the responsibilities that come with taking over a post Mayo had manned since 2009. 

"I've definitely learned in the past to not get outside my box, but this is a little bit different," Hightower said. "I've had a little bit of prep work, but I'm definitely looking forward to it. I'm gonna do my best not to let my teammates down."

Hightower -- who explained that voting for captains was "just like voting for get a ballot and fill out who you want" -- said multiple times that what made him most pleased about his new role was that his teammates wanted him in it. 

"Definitely the biggest honor out of it all is being elected by my teammates and my peers," he said. "That means a lot to me."

And that he received congratulations from one of his former teammates soon after news broke he'd been elected? That was pretty good, too.

"I still talk to [Mayo] all the time," Hightower said. "He congratulated me. I appreciated it. Stepping in, I got some big shoes to fill, but I'm looking forward to it."

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

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Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

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How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.