By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — How do you convince a big-name, free-agent linebacker that he should sign up to play for your team? If you’re the New York Jets, the answer is … cupcakes.

Yes. Cupcakes.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, when the Jets hosted Dont’a Hightower on a free-agent visit on Sunday, the team celebrated Hightower’s 27th birthday by bowling him over — not with a mega-deal. With cupcakes.

“They sent his mother Jets merchandise, they brought him out to dinner last night and had cupcakes given to him on his birthday. They had ‘Happy Birthday Dont’a Hightower’ on all the screens inside the Jets training facility,” Schefter said on ESPN.

This happened, mind you, in an NFL facility. The NFL, you’ll recall, is one of the most cutthroat, cruel businesses in the world. On each and every snap, 11 men try their best to physically impose their will over 11 other men. Physical altercations are the norm. Bitterness extends off the field — particularly between teams that don’t care much for each other, like the Patriots and Jets.

And yet … the Jets thought the best chance they had to sign Hightower away from their division rival was by stopping by the bakery and picking up some frosted treats.

Ay caramba.

Someone might want to inform the Jets that just because they can’t blatantly tamper with every free agent doesn’t mean they need to resort to utilizing the same tactics that a parent of a 5-year-old might employ to get a kid to clean his or her room. Typically, offering a lucrative contract and an opportunity to succeed on the field is what gets players to sign on dotted lines. Confectionery treats rarely enter the equation.

While the cupcakes were just a small part of the pitch, the fact that they were included shows the Jets have no earthly idea how to convince a free agent to sign on to Todd Bowles’ team at this moment in time. A player is either willing to buy in to a program, or he is not. If a team believes that a sugary treat and some words on TV screens are needed to seal the deal, then that team knows that it has no real chance of signing the player without having to offer millions of more dollars per year.

(His mother probably appreciated the Jets gear though. There’s no way that ended up going straight to the donation bin.)

Hightower left the Jets facility without signing a contract, reportedly heading to Pittsburgh. He may sign with the Steelers, or he may well return to the Patriots. Bill Belichick may offer a similar contract to what the Jets offered, or he may even offer a bit less in terms of dollars. Certainly, the Patriots’ head coach won’t be shopping for cakes of any kind before his next discussion with Hightower.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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