New England Patriots free-agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower reportedly will test the open market.
The Patriots told Hightower’s agency, SportsTrust Advisors, that they won’t franchise the linebacker, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday. Hightower, who is the Patriots’ top free agent, is “expected to test the market,” Schefter added.
Players officially hit the open market March 9 at 4 p.m., though the open tampering period begins March 7. That’s when teams other than the Patriots can begin talking to Hightower about a contract, and when he can begin to gauge his market.
It’s still possible the Patriots and Hightower can reach a long-term contract before March 9, and they also could agree to a new contract after free agency begins.
The Patriots would have had to pay Hightower more than $15 million in 2017 if they franchised him. Based on Schefter’s wording, it seems unlikely the Patriots will use the transition tag on Hightower either. That would pay him more than $11 million in 2017.
Hightower was a first-time captain in 2016. He was named to the Pro Bowl and as a second-team All-Pro in 2016 despite missing three games with injuries.
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