Patriots Talk: Dont’a Hightower will NOT be given the franchise tag
by Stephen Hilton
News has already traveled throughout the sports world about Patriots’ linebacker Dont’a Hightower not being given the franchise tag. As he is one of the biggest players hitting free-agency this off-season, this is shell-shocking for the Patriots fan base, as he is considered one of the top players that needed to be resigned. According to NFL insider, Adam Schefter, he was informed that Hightower was not given the franchise tag by the Patriots.
This news means that the Patriots have effectively no control over what happens with Hightower as he is an unrestricted free agent. He can walk into free agency when the market opens for all 32 teams on March 9th and see what offers he gets. This means whatever contracts that other teams will give to Hightower, the Patriots will need to match them if they hope to resign him back. This situation is very similar to when Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty hit free agency back in 2015. Ultimately, the Patriots paid McCourty a 5-year extension worth over 47.5 million to resign him. He then became the highest paid safety in the league after that (Of course, yesterday it was revealed that Kansas City Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry was paid a 6-year extension worth over 78 million, which means he is now the highest paid at his position).
So what exactly happened? Why didn’t the Patriots just franchise tag Hightower? Couldn’t they have come to a long-term deal? According to some reports, negotiations broke down.
What Michael Giardi is referring to here is more likely that the gap doesn’t have anything to do with the total contract value. The Patriots were willing to pay him as high as 10 million per year at the start of the 2016 season. What seems to be ‘a decent gap’ is most likely the amount of guaranteed money that was offered.
The reason why I say that is because Hightower has had multiple injuries and hasn’t been able to stay consistently healthy throughout his NFL career. However, he has shown up to play in the biggest games and has been often said to be ‘the anchor’ of the Patriots’ defense. No matter how the Patriots try to put it, Hightower is too crucial to the defense to be let go.They have already traded players like Chandler Jones and Jaime Collins, letting Hightower leave as well would effectively make the question ‘well what is all the cap space for then?’ Even Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent and he won’t be given more than 1st round tender (It was reinforced after the 2011 lockout, in which RFAs who are given the amount of say $2.879 million. Any of the 31 other teams would need to give up a 1st round pick to get that player effectively then as compensation to the team who drafted him.)
The Patriots more than likely didn’t want to put the exclusive franchise tag on him as he would have been paid over $15 million for one year. The Patriots must have felt it was too serious of a cap hit to give him that as they still have many free agents that need to be resigned this season. (Especially for those who they will need to sign in the NFL draft). However, it has been stated on record by players that they hate being given the tag because it usually is a sign the team is only interested in the short-term and not giving them more money then they feel they are worth. This isn’t because the Patriots’ lack interest in signing an extension, far from it. Rather, they are refusing to put the tag on Hightower because it would only be for one year compared to say 3-4 years where they can spread the money over a period time and have Hightower commit the rest of his years in New England.
The simple fact is this: Bill Belichick will NOT overpay for any NFL player and nothing we sports fans or the media say, will change that. He has a proven track record he will do away with players that he feels are not worth the amount they are offering. This includes previous players like Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy, Asante Samuel, or Deion Branch. You understand where I am going. Bill has gone through this before and if Dont’a gets a better offer somewhere else, good for him, but the reality is that Belicheck is letting the risk of overpaying him become a reality even with the amount of cap space that the Patriots currently have. But Belicheck has given us almost 2 decades of football greatness and trying to question his judgement now would be foolish if you don’t think he knows what the possible consequences are. Well, since us Patriots have been down this road before the only thing I can say is: In Bill We Trust.