BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower is likely to test free agency, but he’s also willing to stay in New England – at the right price. The Patriots have a long list of potential free agents this offseason – and Hightower is still at the top of it.

The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Tuesday to talk about the Patriots’ offseason plans, which includes a lot of big decisions in regards to free agency. Hightower is among 14 Patriots players who are on track to become unrestricted free agents on March 9.

While Hightower has indicated that he’s going to test the free agent market, Howe has heard for a few months that the Patriots consider retaining the linebacker among the most important goals of the offseason – but it won’t come cheaply.

“[The Patriots] definitely want to keep [Hightower]. He is their priority,” said Howe. “Hightower wants to stay, but the Patriots aren’t going to be able to really skimp on his contract. They’re going to have to pay him top dollar. This might not be a hometown discount-type situation.”

Howe estimates that five years and $60 million (with $30 million guaranteed) would be enough to keep Hightower in New England long-term. He looks at the 2017 offseason for Hightower to “really cash in” with a big free agent deal, and he doesn’t blame him. But it means that the Patriots will need to extend themselves to avoid losing their defensive captain.

“The Patriots are going to have to step up to the plate in order to keep him,” Howe added.

Elswhere in free agency, Martellus Bennett also appears very likely to cash in with a long-term deal to the highest bidder. Howe doesn’t believe Bennett would re-sign with the Patriots unless they are willing to come close to matching the kind of deals that other teams will offer the tight end.

“You’ve got to be in the same neighborhood [as other offers] in order to retain [Bennett], because he’s going to be a guy who’s definitely going to follow the money,” said Howe.

Howe also touched upon the possibility of the Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo, and why it might not happen this season. Listen to the full podcast below:


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