Hightower: 'I'd like to think' Jones, Collins trades a good sign Patriots want me

Hightower: 'I'd like to think' Jones, Collins trades a good sign Patriots want me

Dont'a Hightower was one of several Patriots -- including Rob Ninkovich, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell -- who was a guest on various ESPN platforms Wednesday, and in joining the show "NFL Insiders" he explained that he's waiting to see what his future will look like as an impending free agent.

"That's up in the air right now . . . Obviously we got a lot going on with the win and everything," he said. "I'm just trying to enjoy this right now."

Has made arguably two of the three biggest plays in each of New England's last two Super Bowl victories. His strip-sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI gave the Patriots life, and his tackle of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch helped open up the door for Malcolm Butler's heroics in Super Bowl XLIX. 

Hightower was named a defensive captain this season, and he made his first Pro Bowl as he helped lead the Patriots defense after it lost two starters to its front seven in Chandler Jones (traded to the Cardinals) and Jamie Collins (traded to the Browns). It seems as though Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the Patriots front office would like to build around Hightower given the moves they made with other free-agents-to-be, but Hightower knows nothing is guaranteed.

"I'd like to think [it's a good sign the Patriots want to keep me]," Hightower said, "but, again, guys can get put out and traded or whatever. I'm just trying to go along with the ride right now and enjoy that Super Bowl victory. I'm sure in a couple weeks all that free agency stuff will pick up, and I'll handle that whenever that comes."

Collins was given a four-year $50 million extension from the Browns this offseason. Hightower could realistically command an even more lucrative deal. Not only is he a captain and the player who relays the signals from coodinator Matt Patricia to his defensive teammates, but he has a very versatile skill set that allows him to play multiple roles in the Patriots scheme. 

He can serve as an edge-rusher, as he did when he sacked Ryan and forced the game-changing turnover, and he can play in the middle of the field as an off-the-ball linebacker. He can blitz up the A-gap or drop into coverage. He's dealt with injuries over the course of his career, missing 11 regular-season games over the last three years, but he still certainly has a case to be paid like one of the best at his position. 

Should the Patriots opt to use their franchise tag on Hightower, they would owe him somewhere in the range of $15 million guaranteed for 2017. Asked about the tag on ESPN's "NFL Live," Hightower said, "That's a lot of money."

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

PHOENIX -- The Patriots pulled off what many considered a surprise free-agent signing when they acquired corner Stephon Gilmore. As it turns out, before they picked up the former Bills cover man, they inquried about a separate move that would have been even more eye-opening. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, ahead of coming to a deal with Gilmore, the Patriots were among the teams that spoke to the Seahawks about a potential trade for Richard Sherman.

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During the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday morning at the Arizona Biltmore, Seattle coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that multiple teams have contacted the Seahawks about Sherman. But, Carroll said, "I don't see anything happening at all."

Sherman, who turns 29 next season, will make $11.431 million for 2017. He's due $11 million in the final year of his contract in 2018.

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

PHOENIX -- The Patriots picked up Kony Ealy, who a year ago put together one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history, by exchanging a second-round pick for a third-rounder earlier this offseason.

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How exactly was a 25-year-old defensive end with loads of talent available at that price? Apparently he had some trouble listening to the coaching staff in Carolina.

During the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday morning Panthers head coach Ron Rivera praised Ealy for his ability, but he acknowledged that Ealy's production waned in part because the Carolina coaching staff had a hard time getting through to the player involved. 

"I think sometimes when you have success, you kind of fall back into a little bit of something," Rivera answered when asked if Ealy had difficulty taking coaching. "But at the same time, for us, we looked at [the trade] as an opportunity -- as [general manager] Dave [Gettleman] said -- to find some gold. We moved up in the second round. We have two picks in the second round . . . We feel we'll be able to fill a need so we're pretty excited about that opportunity."

Ealy, who has one year remaining on his rookie contract, figures to factor heavily into the rotation at defensive end for the Patriots since Bill Belichick and his coaching staff watched both Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) depart via free-agency, leaving Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich as the primary holdovers on the edge from last year's Super Bowl-winning roster. 

In Super Bowl 50, Ealy tied the Super Bowl record with three sacks. He also recorded an interception and forced fumble in the game -- becoming the only player in Super Bowl history to record multiple sacks and a pick -- and he did it all in 23 snaps.

Last season Ealy started the first six games of the regular season for the Panthers, eventually coming off the bench for the final 10. He saw 58 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps and recorded five sacks as well as an interception. He had nine regular-season sacks combined in his first two seasons as a pro.

So what kind of player will the Patriots be getting in Ealy, I asked Rivera? A good one, he replied, if he's willing to learn everything Belichick throws at him.

"I think they got a guy that has the skill set, that's flashed in opportunities to show people what he's capable of doing," Rivera said. "And at the end of the day, if he listens and does things that coach asks of him, I think he's got an opportunity to reascend and be that type of player. I mean, he is a gifted young man."

Rivera added: "There's nothing physically that kept him from being [more consistent]. You saw the flashes. If you watch the tape, you see these flashes throughout. Sometimes when you see those, you wonder, 'Eh, did we make the right decision?' But at the end of the day, the proof will be in the pudding. We'll know -- once we get through this draft, as to what we were able to accomplish -- whether we did or didn't."

Will Ealy be able to turn those flashes into more consistent production? Will the Patriots coaching staff be able to reach him in a way that those in Carolina apparently could not? 

All that remains to be seen, but Belichick may have had an opportunity to hear a little more about his new defensive end Wednesday when he spoke to Ealy's college defensive line coach for about a half-hour while scouting prospects at the University of Miami pro day, according to the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter.