By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower recently headed home to Tennessee – and there’s a possibility that he will stay there as a free agent.
ESPN’s Ed Werder tweeted on Thursday that the Tennessee Titans have interest in the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent linebacker, who recently built a new home in Nashville. However, Werder added that Hightower’s reported asking price of $10-13 million per year is currently out of the Titans’ range.
The second part actually bodes well for the Patriots, who still have a chance to retain Hightower if he comes to them with an offer that they’re willing to match. An AAV closer to $13 million might also be out of the Pats’ range for Hightower, but there has yet to be a report of any team interested in a deal that expensive. If the best offer Hightower gets on the open market is closer to $10 million, then there would certainly be a good chance that he stays in New England on a similar deal.
UPDATE: The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted on Thursday that the Patriots and Hightower are “in good communication” about potentially returniung to New England.
The Titans could still decide to go the extra mile to land Hightower, who is something of a hometown hero. Hightower was born and raised in Lewisburg, Tenn., less than 60 miles south of Nashville, where he played high school football for the Marshall County Tigers. He played running back for his first two years before moving to linebacker and tight end in his junior year, then moved to defensive end as a senior before becoming a four-star recruit as an inside linebacker for Alabama. In other words, this guy’s a football player.
Considering Hightower’s deep Tennessee ties and new home in Nashville, the interest between him and the Titans is almost certainly mutual.
An intrepid Titans fan on Twitter also pointed out Hightower’s recent Instagram follows, which include Titans players Derrick Henry, Avery Williamson, and Chance Warmack. He also followed the joint Instagram account for the McCourty twins, shared between Patriots teammate Devin McCourty and Devin’s twin brother Jason, who plays for the Titans. Take that for what it’s worth.
While it’s far from an unusual occurrence, Hightower shared to his Instagram account on Wednesday that he was in Nashville:
Bill Belichick was also spotted in Franklin, Tenn., which is less than 20 miles south of Nashville. But that probably has nothing to do with Hightower and everything to do with his girlfriend Linda Holliday being a Franklin native.
Hightower reportedly had a “positive” talk with Belichick about his future and remains open to returning to New England. Their sightings in Tennessee might mean nothing whatsoever related to NFL free agency, but it’s conspicuous in light of the Titans’ reported interest.
The Titans may not agree on the price tag right now, but they definitely have the cap space to potentially extend themselves for Hightower. They have about $65.5 million in space as of Thursday, according to Spotrac. That’s good for fourth-most in the NFL.
[graphiq id=”iuOEg6XgKV” title=”Dont’a Hightower Defensive Numbers in 2016″ width=”600″ height=”523″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/iuOEg6XgKV” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/9114/Dont-a-Hightower” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]
No one should be shocked if Hightower ultimately decides to leave New England to play for the Titans in his home state. But Tennessee’s balk at the asking price, despite being more than able to pay it, is a good sign for the Patriots. If other teams are not willing to pay Hightower at the high end of his price range, that can only improve the Patriots’ chances of retaining their defensive captain.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.