After spending nearly a week as an unrestricted free agent and weighing offers from teams like the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, Dont’a Hightower has decided to stay put.
The New England Patriots signed the 27-year-old linebacker to a four-year, $43.5 million contract that includes $19 million guaranteed, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday, citing Hightower’s agency.
Hightower’s agency also announced the signing via Twitter and retweeted Rapoport’s tweet providing contract details.
Hightower has spent his entire NFL career with the Patriots, who drafted him 25th overall in 2012. Though the 2016 campaign was not his best statistical season, he was recognized as one of the league’s elite linebackers, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors for the first time.
The first-year Patriots co-captain also made one of the biggest plays of the season for New England, with his strip sack of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan helping shift momentum in Super Bowl LI. It was Hightower’s second Super Bowl-altering play, as his goal-line tackle of Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX set up Malcolm Butler’s championship-sealing interception.
Though Butler’s future with the team remains uncertain — he is a restricted free agent and has yet to sign his first-round tender — retaining Hightower makes this offseason an unquestioned success for the Patriots.
Not only has New England brought back three of its top defensive free agents in Hightower, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Alan Branch, but it also has acquired a half-dozen players through trades and free agency, adding tight end Dwayne Allen, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, defensive end Kony Ealy, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and running back Rex Burkhead.
Hightower played in 13 games for the Patriots this past season, tallying 65 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, one forced fumble and one safety.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images
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