Patriots

Patriots

Dont'a Hightower was one of several Patriots -- including Rob Ninkovich, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell -- who was a guest on various ESPN platforms Wednesday, and in joining the show "NFL Insiders" he explained that he's waiting to see what his future will look like as an impending free agent.

"That's up in the air right now . . . Obviously we got a lot going on with the win and everything," he said. "I'm just trying to enjoy this right now."

Has made arguably two of the three biggest plays in each of New England's last two Super Bowl victories. His strip-sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI gave the Patriots life, and his tackle of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch helped open up the door for Malcolm Butler's heroics in Super Bowl XLIX. 

Hightower was named a defensive captain this season, and he made his first Pro Bowl as he helped lead the Patriots defense after it lost two starters to its front seven in Chandler Jones (traded to the Cardinals) and Jamie Collins (traded to the Browns). It seems as though Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the Patriots front office would like to build around Hightower given the moves they made with other free-agents-to-be, but Hightower knows nothing is guaranteed.

"I'd like to think [it's a good sign the Patriots want to keep me]," Hightower said, "but, again, guys can get put out and traded or whatever. I'm just trying to go along with the ride right now and enjoy that Super Bowl victory. I'm sure in a couple weeks all that free agency stuff will pick up, and I'll handle that whenever that comes."

 

Collins was given a four-year $50 million extension from the Browns this offseason. Hightower could realistically command an even more lucrative deal. Not only is he a captain and the player who relays the signals from coodinator Matt Patricia to his defensive teammates, but he has a very versatile skill set that allows him to play multiple roles in the Patriots scheme. 

He can serve as an edge-rusher, as he did when he sacked Ryan and forced the game-changing turnover, and he can play in the middle of the field as an off-the-ball linebacker. He can blitz up the A-gap or drop into coverage. He's dealt with injuries over the course of his career, missing 11 regular-season games over the last three years, but he still certainly has a case to be paid like one of the best at his position. 

Should the Patriots opt to use their franchise tag on Hightower, they would owe him somewhere in the range of $15 million guaranteed for 2017. Asked about the tag on ESPN's "NFL Live," Hightower said, "That's a lot of money."