One of the greatest linebackers in Patriots history finally hung up his cleats Tuesday morning.
Dont’a Hightower announced his NFL retirement in a story published by the Players Tribune. The longtime New England linebacker sat out the entire 2022 season as a free agent, leading some to wonder whether he had plans of returning in 2023. But with Tuesday’s announcement, Hightower officially closed the book on a memorable career.
“Today, I am officially retiring from the NFL,” Hightower wrote. “I know these announcements always feel bittersweet, but I can’t think of a better story than the one I wrote in New England. A decade, three Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls, and the birth of my son — all playing for one franchise. How many guys have a story like that?
“So this is a happy day for me, and I just wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate you embracing a Southern kid from Lewisburg, Tennessee.”
You can read Hightower’s full retirement story by clicking the link in the tweet below:
Selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Hightower enjoyed a reasonably large role as a rookie in a Bill Belichick defense — which is no easy feat. But the Alabama product’s career took off after that, with Hightower eventually establishing himself as one of the top linebackers and draft picks of the Belichick era.
Hightower, a three-time Super Bowl champion, earned a reputation as a player who made big plays in the biggest moments. Some call him “Mr. February“.
His goal-line tackle on Marshawn Lynch set up Malcolm Butler’s famous interception against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. And his strip-sack on Matt Ryan was a key play in New England’s legendary comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. In the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Hightower registered two sacks, two tackles for loss and one pass breakup.
“Sometimes it’s still unreal to think about,” Hightower wrote. “I am a three-time Super Bowl champion. … I appreciate everyone who helped me make this dream come true. But I especially want to thank my mom. None of this happens without her. Now that I got my own 40-pound two-year-old running around the house like a little wrecking ball, I don’t know how you held it down for us all by yourself.”
Hightower, now 33, sat out the 2020 season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. He returned in 2021 for what wound up being his final campaign, racking up 64 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He finished his Patriots career with 569 tackles, 27 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.