BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower may remain an unrestricted free agent, but it appears that the linebacker has a strong chance of returning to the Super Bowl champion Patriots. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t a few other teams with interest in his services.
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Monday morning to talk about the latest with the Patriots in free agency. La Canfora tweeted a series of updates on the team on Sunday night, including that Hightower is expected to return to the Patriots despite meeting with the New York Jets. He told T&R that the conference rival Pittsburgh Steelers also “monitored” Hightower’s situation, but didn’t want to schedule a visit because they didn’t like their chances of luring Hightower away from the Patriots.
“[The Steelers] kind of feel like, ‘We would just be getting used here,'” said La Canfora. “[Other teams are] expecting that Hightower takes what’s on the table from the Patriots.” La Canfora added on Sunday night that Hightower is expected to re-sign with the Patriots for a reported $10 million per season.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted on Monday that Hightower is indeed visiting the Steelers this week.
It’s been a quiet market for players who are better known as assets in the running game than in the passing game. La Canfora said that running backs like Adrian Peterson, nose tackles like Dontari Poe, and inside linebackers like Hightower simply aren’t going to see nearly as much money as players who affect the passing game like quarterbacks, wide receivers, pass rushers, and shutdown cornerbacks.
“The reality for all these guys is, if you are paid to run the football or you are paid primarily to set the edge or stop the run, you’re not getting what you thought you were getting,” said La Canfora. “In some cases, you’re probably not getting close.”
He added that Hightower isn’t getting close to the same kind of money as pure pass rushers because he “didn’t get to the quarterback enough.”
Malcolm Butler, meanwhile, is only a restricted free agent. But he’s reportedly frustrated with the Patriots and seeking a new team. La Canfora isn’t expecting the Patriots to do much more with Butler, who have already offered him a first-round tender for $3.9 million but could be looking to trade him.
La Canfora believes that Butler could end up playing for the Patriots on the first-round tender, after coming up empty with new teams that would be willing to send the Patriots a first-round pick to sign him to an offer sheet. This could create a “tag-and-trade-type situation” for a future Butler trade.
No matter what happens, La Canfora now views both Butler and backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as valuable trade chips for the Patriots.
“They have two assets now that other teams covet in Garoppolo and Butler, and we’ll see how that goes,” he said.
La Canfora also discussed the Patriots’ “surprising” move to win a “bidding war” for free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Listen to the full podcast below: