By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower wasn’t going to let a massive snow storm prevent him from making it to Pittsburgh. He’s officially in town and meeting with the Steelers on Tuesday, according to Mark Kaboly of DKPittsburghSports.com on Twitter.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted earlier on Tuesday that Hightower was able to make it to Pittsburgh, despite the heavy snow and powerful winds battering the Northeast. Now that Hightower is officially meeting with the Steelers, it adds an unsettling rival for the Patriots to the battle for Hightower’s services.
On the field, there’s no question that he would be an excellent fit for the Steelers defense. He would seamlessly replace middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who just left the Steelers for the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers would get younger (and better) at the position if they add the 27-year-old Hightower to the middle of their defense.
Financially, however, Hightower would be a tough take for the Steelers to sign him at his preferred number – or a price range that the Patriots wouldn’t be willing to match anyway. They only have about $18.8 million of cap space for 2017, according to Spotrac. They could make it work with Hightower at something closer to $13 million per season, but it seems unlikely that they’d add that kind of hit on top of what they just paid for Antonio Brown ($17 million average salary) and Le’Veon Bell ($12.1 million average salary).
But, of course, the Steelers could still find ways to maneuver around the cap and make Hightower happen if they don’t want to scratch the ceiling – they just need to get players to go along. It could take some restructuring with someone like Ben Roethlisberger ($18.2 million cap hit), center Maurkice Pouncey, or guard David DeCastro (both $11 million).
If the Steelers ultimately won’t significantly outbid the Patriots for Hightower, they will end up empty-handed like the New York Jets – just without the stale cupcakes. But the Steelers remain a markedly bigger threat to steal Hightower away from the Patriots than the Jets. They offer much more in terms of Hightower’s potential fit in the defense and their chances of challenging the Patriots for the AFC crown.
Still, it doesn’t appear that any team has felt comfortable extending themselves to pry Hightower away from New England. Until that happens in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, a return to New England looks like Hightower’s most likely scenario.
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 email@example.com.