Despite the persistent belief that linebacker Dont’a Hightower wouldn’t be leaving the Patriots, the Patriots didn’t make a move to keep Hightower until only one day before he agreed to terms.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the first New England offer came on March 14 — seven days after the negotiating period opened with other teams and five days after free agency officially started. The offer came as Hightower began his visit to the Steelers, who (as reported elsewhere) gave Hightower a firm deadline for accepting their offer. Hightower opted to nevertheless wait and to keep talking to New England.
On March 15, the Patriots eventually sweetened the offer after a back-and-forth. The Patriots (like the Jets — more on that in a separate item) had concerns about Hightower’s durability and availability. For his career, Hightower has participated in only 65 percent of all plays. It’s believed that those concerns caused the Patriots to take a very conservative approach to the negotiations.
The base deal, with an average just under $9 million per year (it’s definitely not a four-year, $43.5 million deal as reported elsewhere), puts Hightower behind Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Novarro Bowman, who have nine Pro Bowl berths between them. The contract nevertheless pays out $17 million fully guaranteed at signing; the other $2 million guarantee is for injury only, and it vests as a full guarantee later in the deal.
With incentives for playing time and Pro Bowl, Hightower can make another $2 million per year. The maximum package has a value of $10.88 million per year.
Given the durabiltiy issues and the realities of the offer from the Jets (again, more on that later), Hightower regarded the ability to make good money and to stay put with a perennial contender as his best option, by far.