BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots will not franchise Dont’a Hightower, according to a report on Tuesday.

That means the linebacker will test the free agent market, where he should earn a pretty penny. Time will tell if that big payday will come from the Patriots or another team.

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.

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.The Patriots had not applied the franchise tag to a player since 2015.

The deadline to apply the franchise tag to a player is at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The Patriots have not applied the franchise tag to a player since 2015.


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