BOSTON (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower isn’t going anywhere.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the linebacker is returning to New England.
Hightower and the Patriots have agreed on a four-year deal worth $43.5 million with $19 million guaranteed, according to The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
His new deal makes Hightower the second-highest paid inside linebacker behind Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.
Hightower has been a key component to New England’s defense since the team drafted him 25th overall in 2012. He was a first-time captain in 2016, making his first Pro Bowl after registering 65 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 13 games.
FOLLOW: NFL Free Agency Tracker
But Hightower’s contributions go far beyond the stat sheet. He’s the defense’s signal caller, originally serving as a fill-in during his second season when Jerod Mayo was injured, but has since claimed the role as his own. He’s also made game-changing plays in each of New England’s last two Super Bowl victories; stuffing Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line on the play before Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX and forcing a Matt Ryan fumble that helped spark New England’s Super Bowl LI comeback against the Atlanta Falcons.
[graphiq id=”4p5UPO9tLWR” title=”Dont’a Hightower 2016 Season Defensive Stats” width=”600″ height=”794″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/4p5UPO9tLWR” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/9114/Dont-a-Hightower” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]
Retaining Hightower this offseason was important given New England’s lack of depth at the linebacker position. Jonathan Freeny, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, and Elandon Roberts are all behind Hightower on the depth chart, but none would deliver close to the same kind of production.
The New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennesee Titans all tried to sign the linebacker this offseason. But in the end, not even birthday cupcakes could convince the linebacker to leave New England.