5. Dont’a Hightower, Inside Linebacker, New England Patriots
Out of all of the free agents listed, this one might have the least likelihood of actually occurring, as Dont’a Hightower should be a strong candidate to be franchise tagged by the New England Patriots if a long-term deal cannot be reached.
Still, it can’t be entirely ruled out either, as Hightower reportedly turned down a multi-year offer from the Patriots for roughly $10 million per season, and the franchise tag for next season would be around $15 million.
The Patriots are known for being prudent with their cap space (even though they have $61 million of it this offseason) and could believe that no linebacker is worth the lucrative mega-deal that Hightower could command in the open market–especially since the team recently traded other star linebackers like Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones this past year.
Initially drafted by the New England Patriots in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Hightower has turned into a complete linebacker at the position–having just been named a 2nd-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time this past season respectively.
The 6’3″, 265 pound inside linebacker started in 13 games for the Patriots in 2016, recording 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), he was rated their 12th best inside linebacker overall with a +85.7 grade overall. He’s much more gifted in the box than in space though.
However, there are some injury concerns, as the 5th-year veteran has never played all 16 games in a season while missing 11 games over the past three seasons with the Patriots.
That being said, the Colts are a mess at inside linebacker with young and unproven linebackers such as Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison as the only in-house candidates–which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Each linebacker could be better suited as a backup going forward.
This past year, the Colts simply struggled replacing departed starter Jerrell Freeman, as the team shuffled through the likes of Nate Irving (preseason), Sio Moore, and Josh McNary as well–with no one solidifying the position.
Not to mention, the Colts just released last year’s starter, veteran D’Qwell Jackson, meaning the issue has been compounded with an even greater void to fill.
The 26 year old Hightower could not only finally provide the Colts with a standout at inside linebacker again, but he could be a long-term answer at the position for years to come.