According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, free agent inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Patriots coach Bill Belichick had a “positive conversation” last week and that he’s open to returning to New England.
The Patriots opted against franchising Hightower, who saw his rookie contract expire after the 2016 season. The Patriots traded up in the 2012 draft to take the Alabama product 25th overall, but could see him depart in free agency after five seasons.
#Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower had a positive conversation with Belichick about his future last week. He’s exploring but open to returning— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 7, 2017
Hightower testing the market and ultimately returning would not be completely uncharted territory for the Patriots, as they went through a similar situation with Devin McCourty in 2015.
Should Hightower walk, it would leave Malcom Brown as the team’s only first-round pick since 2012 still on the team.
Chandler Jones (21st overall in 2012) was traded to Arizona last offseason, while Dominique Easley (29th overall in 2014) was cut. The Pats traded out of the first round in 2013, but their first pick (Jamie Collins, 52nd overall) was dealt to Cleveland prior to last season’s trade deadline. They did not have a first-round pick last year as part of their Deflategate punishment.