Patriots

Patriots To-Do List: To tag, or not to tag Hightower?

Patriots To-Do List: To tag, or not to tag Hightower?

What to do about High?

The most pressing personnel question facing the Patriots in this offseason surrounds a 26-year-old team captain and second-team All-Pro who, since 2009, has played on two BCS National Championship teams at Alabama and two Super Bowl champions with New England.

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

And Dont'a Hightower not only made the play that set up the play to win Super Bowl 49, he made the play that turned a smoldering comeback into an inferno in Super Bowl 51.

What’s not to like? In terms of impactful front-seven players, he may be team’s most vital. You could see it in the NFL Films "Sound FX" episode when he was the defense’s main conscience and communicator. He’s a run-stopper (witness the stuff of Devonte Freeman to start the second half in SB51) and a pass-rusher (his strip sack of Matt Ryan in the third quarter). He’s a little underrated in coverage, his savvy and decisiveness making up for the fact he’s transporting 265 pounds around in open space against quicker players.

Earlier this season, Hightower told me in the award-winning "Quick Slants the Podcast" segment “Hey! Wassyournumbah?!” that he was encouraged as a rookie to switch from 45 to 54 because of the linebacker legacy that number held thanks to Tedy Bruschi.

Hightower was a first-round selection in 2012 and, with the team $63 million under the salary cap and having already offloaded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, the money is there to sew him up long-term.

The highest-paid linebackers in the NFL are outside linebackers such as Von Miller and Justin Houston. Former Patriot Jamie Collins just entered that realm as well with a four-year, $50M deal from the Browns. The highest-paid inside linebackers are Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Navorro Bowman. Hightower is an inside linebacker though he lines up on the edge as well in some sets. 

A deal that would average out at $12M per year and net him $35M to $40M in guaranteed money should be the goal for Hightower’s agent Pat Dye.

And that’s where the call gets tough for the Patriots. In the past three seasons, Hightower’s played 12, 12, and 13 regular-season games. He’s had knee and shoulder injuries and he plays a position in which there is no preserving oneself. Careers are short and violent.

To compare, Kuechly has missed nine games the past two seasons and his concussion issues at the end of this season were alarming. Wagner just played a full 16-game season this year for the first time since his rookie year. Bowman, a durable, three-time All-Pro, was limited to four games this season. And the Patriots have Hightower’s friend and predecessor Jerod Mayo as a cautionary tale as well.

Mayo agreed to a five-year extension at the tail end of his All-Pro 2010 season. Then knee and chest injuries robbed Mayo of 23 games over the next four seasons.

When Hightower’s healthy, he’s regularly on the field more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps. He played every snap against Houston in the Divisional Playoff Game. With his shoulder a little balky, he played just 52 percent of the snaps in the AFC Championship.

In the past three seasons, he’s played 67.9, 54.3 and 76.6 of the Patriots total defensive snaps.

The easiest answer – and one that it took me some time to realize – would probably be to use the franchise tag on Hightower. The cost will be about $15M for the season and, while that will prevent Hightower from realizing the windfall of a big signing bonus and the on-paper security of a long-term deal, he will have made $22M between 2016 and 2017. He’ll also be headed back toward unrestricted free agency next year as a 27-year-old with, fingers crossed, some years left to play.

Don't anticipate Hightower doing handsprings about that. He’s taken the leadership mantle the Patriots desired him to take and he’s done the things on-field one would expect an elite player to do. Will there be a “quo pro” to his “quid” or will the Patriots lock him down in the golden chains of the tag?

The tag window opened up Wednesday, so the team can make that play now if it wants to. 

I wouldn't expect Hightower to rail outwardly if he were to be tagged, but I think he'd expect a diligent effort to get something done between now and July 15 (the deadline for lifting the tag because an extension is reached), so the tag could be lifted before 2017 starts. 


 

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty isn't looking to make headlines, but also he's not reluctant to talk about Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick's name comes up.

Kaepernick's name was broached because TMZ caught up with Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's lawyer, and posted the video Thursday. In it, Geragos hinted that there were two NFL clubs that could be interested in signing his client. 

The two franchises at which hinted? The Raiders and the Patriots. New England came up because Geragos was asked about a "Colin Kaepernick anthem" that rapper Meek Mill is planning on. 

"I've heard that," Geragos said. "You know who Meek Mill was visited by when he was in custody?" 

Off camera, someone answered Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Bingo," said Geragos. 

It's a flimsy connection if that's all it is, and McCourty hadn't seen the TMZ video. But as far as Kaepernick's potential return to the league, McCourty is a supporter of the idea. 

"I would just say I think he's a really good player," McCourty said. "I think he's had a tremendous amount of success in this league. And I've said it numerous times, there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the top -- whether you want to say 32 or 64 -- quarterbacks that should be in this league. 

"I've said that from the jump. I believe that. I hope that's true for him. Whether it's those two [teams] or someone else, I hope that's true."

McCourty indicated that he didn't feel as though there would be any issues welcoming Kaepernick to the Patriots locker room if that ever came to pass. 

And though McCourty is one of the faces of the Players Coalition -- which has worked to steer the national conversation away from anthem demonstrations to work being done in communities that need it -- he maintained that having the face of the anthem demonstrations in the locker room might actually give Kaepernick an opportunity to highlight the charitable work Kaepernick has done.

According to Business Insider, he's donated over $1 million to various charities in over a year and a half. 

"I think he's still doing positive stuff," McCourty said. "I think him as a player would probably spotlight some of those things. Because right now people only talk about still the same thing. If he had that viewership, as far as the NFL, people would get to see what he does. 

"I think the people who see what he does now are the people that follow him and want to know. Whereas the average NFL viewer, they're not going to see what Kaepernick is doing right now. I think him in the NFL would give people the opportunity to see that. Obviously it would come up. Whatever team he signs to, the first question is going to be, What are you going to do? It's going to come up."

The question is whether there is a team out there willing to take on a player who would generate those discussions and the swirl of media attention that would follow.

For McCourty, that wouldn't be an issue. 

"I've never been opposed to [discussing it]," he said, "obviously."

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Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

The Patriots were No. 2 in the NFL after losing Super Bowl 52 to the Philadelphia Eagles and they're again No. 2 in Forbes' annual valuation rankings of NFL teams.

For the fourth year in a row, the Pats, at $3.8 billion. have finished second to the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion, up from $4.2 billion a year ago for Jerry Jones' team). 

Here's the Top 10:

The Patriots were second in 2017 (at $3.7 billion) , 2016 ($3.4B) and 2015 ($3.2B). Not bad when you consider that in 1994, Robert Kraft purchased the team for $172 million. 

The Buffalo Bills at $1.6 billion bring up the rear among the 31 NFL teams for the second year in a row. 

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