Patriots To-Do List: To tag, or not to tag Hightower?

Patriots To-Do List: To tag, or not to tag Hightower?

What to do about High?

The most pressing personnel question facing the Patriots in this offseason surrounds a 26-year-old team captain and second-team All-Pro who, since 2009, has played on two BCS National Championship teams at Alabama and two Super Bowl champions with New England.

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

And Dont'a Hightower not only made the play that set up the play to win Super Bowl 49, he made the play that turned a smoldering comeback into an inferno in Super Bowl 51.

What’s not to like? In terms of impactful front-seven players, he may be team’s most vital. You could see it in the NFL Films "Sound FX" episode when he was the defense’s main conscience and communicator. He’s a run-stopper (witness the stuff of Devonte Freeman to start the second half in SB51) and a pass-rusher (his strip sack of Matt Ryan in the third quarter). He’s a little underrated in coverage, his savvy and decisiveness making up for the fact he’s transporting 265 pounds around in open space against quicker players.

Earlier this season, Hightower told me in the award-winning "Quick Slants the Podcast" segment “Hey! Wassyournumbah?!” that he was encouraged as a rookie to switch from 45 to 54 because of the linebacker legacy that number held thanks to Tedy Bruschi.

Hightower was a first-round selection in 2012 and, with the team $63 million under the salary cap and having already offloaded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, the money is there to sew him up long-term.

The highest-paid linebackers in the NFL are outside linebackers such as Von Miller and Justin Houston. Former Patriot Jamie Collins just entered that realm as well with a four-year, $50M deal from the Browns. The highest-paid inside linebackers are Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Navorro Bowman. Hightower is an inside linebacker though he lines up on the edge as well in some sets. 

A deal that would average out at $12M per year and net him $35M to $40M in guaranteed money should be the goal for Hightower’s agent Pat Dye.

And that’s where the call gets tough for the Patriots. In the past three seasons, Hightower’s played 12, 12, and 13 regular-season games. He’s had knee and shoulder injuries and he plays a position in which there is no preserving oneself. Careers are short and violent.

To compare, Kuechly has missed nine games the past two seasons and his concussion issues at the end of this season were alarming. Wagner just played a full 16-game season this year for the first time since his rookie year. Bowman, a durable, three-time All-Pro, was limited to four games this season. And the Patriots have Hightower’s friend and predecessor Jerod Mayo as a cautionary tale as well.

Mayo agreed to a five-year extension at the tail end of his All-Pro 2010 season. Then knee and chest injuries robbed Mayo of 23 games over the next four seasons.

When Hightower’s healthy, he’s regularly on the field more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps. He played every snap against Houston in the Divisional Playoff Game. With his shoulder a little balky, he played just 52 percent of the snaps in the AFC Championship.

In the past three seasons, he’s played 67.9, 54.3 and 76.6 of the Patriots total defensive snaps.

The easiest answer – and one that it took me some time to realize – would probably be to use the franchise tag on Hightower. The cost will be about $15M for the season and, while that will prevent Hightower from realizing the windfall of a big signing bonus and the on-paper security of a long-term deal, he will have made $22M between 2016 and 2017. He’ll also be headed back toward unrestricted free agency next year as a 27-year-old with, fingers crossed, some years left to play.

Don't anticipate Hightower doing handsprings about that. He’s taken the leadership mantle the Patriots desired him to take and he’s done the things on-field one would expect an elite player to do. Will there be a “quo pro” to his “quid” or will the Patriots lock him down in the golden chains of the tag?

The tag window opened up Wednesday, so the team can make that play now if it wants to. 

I wouldn't expect Hightower to rail outwardly if he were to be tagged, but I think he'd expect a diligent effort to get something done between now and July 15 (the deadline for lifting the tag because an extension is reached), so the tag could be lifted before 2017 starts. 


 

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

The Patriots obviously got it right when they pushed away from the table during the Darrelle Revis bidding war in 2015. 

The once-great corner spent the 2016 season languishing on the field. He’s spending the early part of the offseason reacting negatively to backpack journalism after midnight. 

But the alleged double KO by Revis and his buddies isn’t what prompts this submission. 

It’s the revelation from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that the tampering the Jets engaged in when they were prying Revis loose from the Patriots was way, way more involved than what the NFL fined them for. And that Jets owner Woody Johnson knew all about it. 

Mehta leads his piece revealing that, long before free agency opened in 2015, Revis “was ready to squeeze more money out of [Johnson] who he knew would be willing to overpay for his services again.”

Mehta reports that, “back-channel discussions with the Jets in February set the foundation for a Revis reunion . . . 

“Team officials in stealth mode communicated with Revis, Inc., through private cell phones and face-to-face covert meetings at the 2015 Scouting Combine rather than make calls from the team's landlines at their Florham Park facility. No paper trails were a must.

“Johnson, the driving force behind bringing back Revis to right a wrong in his mind, endorsed all of it.”

The Patriots -- who were in the midst of the Deflategate colonoscopy that resulted in absurd-level discipline -- lodged a complaint with the league over the Jets tampering after Revis signed with the Jets in mid-March of 2015. 

The Jets were fined $100,000 but weren’t docked any draft picks.. The tender wrist slap came, ostensibly, because Johnson moronically stated at a December press conference that he’d “love” to have Revis return to New York. 

Maybe Johnson wasn’t being a dummy. That comment provided cover for the league office -- which has a documented history of treating the two NYC franchises with kid gloves -- to let the Jets off easy. 

Mehta’s article is the latest offering from him since completing his heel turn against Revis. 

Mehta did everything but fly the plane to bring Revis to New York once the 2014 season ended. And this is what he wrote the day the Jets penalty came down: 

The NFL’s attempt to uncover any dirt was an exercise in futility, a witch hunt driven by nonsense from a hypocritical organization with no reason to feel threatened by its competitor. 

You may wonder what’s the point? 

Clearly, the Patriots got it right while the Jets cheated, got what they wanted, and are now getting what they deserved. 

And everyone already knows the league office’s investigations and operations arms under the brutally incompetent leadership of Troy Vincent are a laughingstock. 

All true. But if I don’t write this now, I may have no recollection of this particular instance of league corruption given the absolute avalanche of other incidents
 

Perry: 'Not out of the realm of possibility' Amendola takes pay cut

Perry: 'Not out of the realm of possibility' Amendola takes pay cut

Phil Perry analyzes  whether Danny Amendola will take another pay cut to stay with the New England Patriots.