The New England Patriots elected not to use the franchise tag on Dont’a Hightower, but they still could retain their free-agent linebacker.
Hightower is “exploring” his options but is “open to returning” to the Patriots, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday. Rapoport tweeted Hightower “had a positive conversation” with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
This situation is resembling safety Devin McCourty’s experience in free agency two years ago more and more by the day. McCourty, a captain like Hightower, wasn’t franchised, hit free agency but still elected to return to the Patriots after he assessed the open market.
The NFL’s open tampering period began Tuesday, meaning other teams could begin contacting Hightower’s agent. That allows players to know their value on the open market before free agency officially begins Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.
Hightower is the Patriots’ top free agent. Cornerback Logan Ryan, tight end Martellus Bennett, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Alan Branch are the Patriots’ other unrestricted free agent priorities. Cornerback Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent and received a first-round tender.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports