Hightower earns first Pro Bowl nod, joining Brady, Slater, McCourty

Hightower earns first Pro Bowl nod, joining Brady, Slater, McCourty

Unitl Tuesday, Dont'a Hightower's name was often preceded by the words "Pro Bowl caliber linebacker." Now the "caliber" portion can be lopped off. 

It was announced on Tuesday that the 26-year-old 'backer, in many ways the centerpiece of the Patriots defense, has been named to his first Pro Bowl. Hightower joins teammates Tom Brady, Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty in earning that honor this year. 

Hightower was voted in as a captain before the regular season, and he has taken on more of a leadership role in his fifth year. He has played in 12 of 14 games for the Patriots, starting in all of them. With 64 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble he has helped Bill Belichick's defense -- which is currently the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL -- round into form. His understanding of the scheme and his ability to align his teammates has been critical as the team has worked in first-year Patriots Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin and Elandon Roberts at the linebacker level following the trade of Jamie Collins to the Browns in late October.

Hightower is in the final year of his rookie contract and his slated to hit unrestricted free agency after the season.

For McCourty, it's the third time he's been selected as a Pro Bowler. He was named to the Pro Bowl back in 2010 as a rookie cornerback. One of the team's best tacklers, he has put his versatility on display this season by patrolling the deep middle of the field effectively as well as moving down into the box to cover receiving options one-on-one. His jarring fourth-down hit on Broncos wideout Demaryius Thomas in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win was one of the key plays in the game that secured the team's eighth-straight division title. Like Hightower, McCourty is essential to the team's communication on the back end of the defense and regularly draws praise from his teammates for his football IQ. 

For Brady, it is the 12th time he has been named to the Pro Bowl, and his eighth straight since 2009. The 39-year-old has put up impressive numbers despite missing the first four games of the season while serving his suspension for Deflategate: He's completed 66.9 percent of his passes and is averaging 8.24 yards per attempt; he has 22 touchdown passes against just two interceptions; and even after posting a sub-70.0 rating against the Broncos over the weekend, he has the second-best rating in the league at 109.7. 

Slater is also on an impressive run, making the NFL's version of the all-star game for the sixth consecutive time as one of the game's best when it comes to kick coverage. He advocated for fellow special-teamer Nate Ebner to be named a Pro Bowler on Tuesday. 

Of course, nice as the honor is, none of the Patriots are hoping they'll be eligible to play in the game. It will be held in Orlando on Jan. 29, one week before Super Bowl LI. 

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively


Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

The Patriots have acquired wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with the Raiders, NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry confirms.

Pardon My Take, a podcast by Barstool Sports, first reported the news.

Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reports the Patriots sent a fifth-round pick to Oakland and received a Raiders' sixth-rounder along with Patterson.

More to come...