BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower looks like he could be on his way out of New England, as the Patriots linebacker will hit the unrestricted free agent market on Thursday at 4 p.m.. While it appears that Hightower could end up signing with the highest bidder, there’s still a chance that the Patriots could keep their defensive captain.

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted on Tuesday that Hightower “had a positive conversation with [Patriots head coach Bill] Belichick about his future” within the past week. Hightower is reportedly “exploring” his free agency options but remains “open to returning” to New England.

NFL free agency’s “legal tampering” period began at noon on Tuesday, during which Hightower presumably spoke with other teams about what they may offer him as a free agent. Hightower has a chance to cash in this offseason, hitting the market as one of the best defensive players available.

[graphiq id=”jP3CiL6YN5b” title=”Dont’a Hightower Career Defensive Stats” width=”600″ height=”448″ url=”” link=”” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]

The likelihood is that Hightower gets his best offer and takes it back to the Patriots to see if they’d want to match it. Hightower could field offers in the same range as former teammate Jamie Collins, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

The Patriots currently have Elandon Roberts, Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy as the only other linebackers on the roster.


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