Patriots Mailbag: Dont’a Hightower Could Be Key To Defensive Resurgence

Hightower opted out for the 2020 NFL season


Feb 26, 2021

There could be three more veteran franchise quarterbacks available this offseason, but two are extremely unlikely to land with the New England Patriots.

The Houston Texans would be crazy to trade Deshaun Watson to the Patriots, and New England is not on Russell Wilson’s list of potential trade destinations. Dak Prescott is slightly more realistic.

Prescott would only come available under two conditions:

A. The Dallas Cowboys trade for Wilson
B. Prescott isn’t part of that trade

If A and B occur, then the Patriots would have a shot at Prescott. Ultimately, it’s unlikely — extremely unlikely, even — but the odds are still better than Watson or Wilson coming to the Patriots.

Watch above and read below for this week’s mailbag.

What is it going to take for the Patriots in your eyes this next season, to be division contender with Miami and the Bills recent success? Also, do you think our defense is slept on with all of our missing players due to COVID?

I think the Patriots could be division contenders if they wisely spend their $60 million in cap space. That amount of cap room, especially with other teams scrambling for space, can go a long way in improving the Patriots. They do need a quarterback, however. It’s ultimately unlikely that they would compete for the division if they come away with a worst-case scenario starter like Jacoby Brissett or Nick Foles. They need at least a mid-tier starter to compete.

And yes, I do think simply adding 2020 opt-outs Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung back into the group will boost the unit. They also need dramatic improvements from players like Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger and Chase Winovich. The potential is there for the Patriots’ defense. They need to play smart in 2021, and Hightower and Chung can help achieve that.

Hightower is especially important given the Patriots’ lack of talent in the front seven last season. The ninth-year veteran linebacker adds versatility, intelligence, experience and communication skills back into the defense. He’s the defensive play-caller. He’s helping everyone get lined up. He’s helping determine stunts and games in obvious pass-rushing situations. So much of the Patriots’ defense is predicated less on talent and more on guys being where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Hightower and Chung are masters of doing their job and helping other players do their jobs, as well. And now they’ll be returning in 2021, according to Patriots safety Devin McCourty.

@DougKyed What is the most realistic WR/TE combo we could get this offseason? Could either be trades, free agents, or draft!

Among the top wide receivers, it seems unlikely Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin or Kenny Golladay will hit the open market. They’re all candidates to be franchised. That leaves JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller and Curtis Samuel as the top options. Smith-Schuster’s game would fit the Patriots, but I’m not sure how well Bill Belichick would respond to TikTok dances on an opposing team’s logo (probably not well). Fuller could be a good value in comparison to the rest of the free-agent wide receivers because of his durability and suspension that will continue one game into the 2021 season. Samuel seems like a system fit for the Patriots.

Among tight ends, I’d say Gerald Everett is the most likely candidate. So, maybe Samuel, Everett and a wild card.

Josh Reynolds, Adam Humphries, Tyrell Williams or a rookie seem like candidates at wide receiver.

Obvious Question Today… Russ to the Pats any chance

Doesn’t look like it.

It’s unlikely the Patriots would have been willing to cough up the three (or more) first-round picks it would take to trade for Wilson anyway, but New England didn’t not make the list.

Patriots trades before the draft, like usually trading away a vet on a big contract or that is up for one. Is Gilmore still expected to be moved and what is his value? If not, who else could you see being moved?

I’d say there’s about a 50-50 shot Stephon Gilmore gets traded this offseason, and here’s why:

It’s going to be costly to extend Stephon Gilmore since his 2021 cap hit is already $16.3 million. That’s complicated by the fact that his salary is only $7 million. He also has $500,000 total in per game roster bonuses for a total cash intake of $7.5 million. So, in order to extend Gilmore, they’ll need to raise his pay in 2021 by about $10 million while also giving him a market deal moving forward. It seems unlikely the Patriots would be willing to extend him by more than a couple years, but that would still be about $44 million in new money. The contract would have to be something the Patriots are willing to do and Gilmore would be willing to accept. There could be a fine line there.

It’s certainly possible. And Gilmore is still a fantastic player. There’s a strong case for the Patriots to extend him. But if they can’t reach an agreement, then New England probably could get something close to an early second-round pick in a trade. Fellow cornerback JC Jackson and wide receiver N’Keal Harry are other potential trade candidates. You also have to wonder if Winovich has proven to be an ideal fit in the defense since his snaps fluctuated so much in 2020.

Let’s go rapid fire.

Do we actually get AJ Green this year? #MailDoug

It’s certainly more possible than it was last year when the Cincinnati Bengals wasted a bunch of money to franchise him that they could have carried over into 2021.

What team in the top 10 would the Patriots have the most realistic chance of trading up with to grab a QB

Maybe the Bengals or Philadelphia Eagles? That’s assuming the Eagles are happy with Jalen Hurts and won’t be taking a quarterback at No. 6 overall. The Dallas Cowboys at No. 10 would also be a possibility, assuming they don’t trade the pick for Wilson.

chances of getting mariota ?

He’s probably the most likely candidate to start for the Patriots in 2021 at this point.

There are reports now coming out that Yodny Cajuste is ready to go. If that’s the case Marcus Cannon is probably gone, now with that being said Cajuste hasn’t played a snap in the NFL due to injuries, so if he gets injured do we keep a proven veteran or draft someone as backup?

I think you’re putting the cart before the horse with Yodny Cajuste. He’s missed two straight seasons, and players like Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron passed him on the depth chart. I also wouldn’t write off Marcus Cannon returning at this point.

Can we make 52 clones of Jake Bailey

You think Bill Belichick hasn’t looked into this?

choose between Pitts and Waddle

Kyle Pitts.

Does beau allen even exist?? @DougKyed

I don’t think I’ve personally ever seen him on a Patriots practice field.

If @ezlazar and @ZackCoxNESN were both drowning and you only had time to save one, who would you save?

Sorry, Evan. Team NESN.

how high is too high to consider Brevin Jordan? if hes there at 47, is that a reach? #MailDoug

Testing numbers are important for undersized tight ends. Look at Hunter Bryant last year. He ran a 4.74-second-40-yard dash and went undrafted. If Jordan can run like a big wide receiver, he could be in range at No. 47.

Why don’t you have a #DougBuds TikTok

I’m working on it, OK?

On a scale of 1 to 10, you are confident this QB will be on the 2021 roster :

A) Jimmy Garoppolo
B) Cam Newton
C) Marcus Mariota
D) Ryan Fitzpatrick
E) Jacoby Brissett
F) Mac Jones
G) Trey Lance
H) Mitch Trubisky
I) Justin Fields
J) Zach Wilson

I’ll rank them:

1. Marcus Mariota
2. Jacoby Brissett
3. Cam Newton
4. Mac Jones
5. Jimmy Garoppolo
6. Trey Lance
7. Ryan Fitzpatrick
8. Mitch Trubisky
9. Justin Fields
10. Zach Wilson

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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