Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower apparently hasn’t decided whether he’ll return in 2021.
The New England Patriots are fresh off producing their worst campaign (based on record) in two decades. In doing so, they snapped their league-best streak of division titles and qualifying for the playoffs, both of which dated back to 2009.
While fans certainly expected better from them this season, it’s worth noting that they had a string of underlying factors working against them — with the most noteworthy being not having a normal-sized offseason to get younger players acclimated, a debilitating magnitude of roster turnover and a league-leading eight player opt outs.
Speaking of the latter, the absences of those eight players really shined a damning light on the defects of the Patriots’ roster, and their respective returns will go a long way in helping the team compete for the playoffs in 2021…assuming the front office gets busy in the offseason.
According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, however, linebacker Dont’a Hightower is still unsure of whether he’ll come back next season. What’s even more surprising? The report implies that the 31-year-old veteran might actually be pondering retirement.
Here’s what Howe had to say about Hightower’s status for 2021.
"“Hightower had a career-high 40.5 disruptions in 2019, so he was still playing at a high level before opting out,” he wrote. “It’s not known if he plans to return, but he would go a long way toward turning around the front seven. If Hightower retires, the Patriots would have an additional $9.9 million in cap space.”"
Well, that won’t inspire much confidence in Patriots fans.
At the surface, we just assumed that Hightower was still wary about returning to football following the birth of his son, with the pandemic still very much at large throughout the country. We never even considered that the eight-year pro could potentially call it a career, but that would obviously open up an entirely new can of worms in terms of positions that need to be addressed in the offseason.
The Patriots’ front seven, let alone their linebacking corps, sorely missed Hightower’s leadership and nose for the ball this season. In 2019, he enjoyed arguably the most productive season of his underrated career, compiling 71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 19 pressures, 13 QB hits, four pass deflections and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
From both a play-calling and playmaking perspective, Hightower, who’s under contract through 2021, means everything to the Patriots’ defense, and not having him next season after he surprisingly (at the time) opted out of 2020 would be nothing short of disastrous.