Patriots: We’re starting to worry about Dont’a Hightower returning
By Jerry Trotta
As if the departure of Tom Brady wasn’t debilitating enough, the Patriots’ playoff chances were pretty much massacred in 2020 after they lost eight players — most of whom were projected starters — to opt outs due to concerns about playing amid the global pandemic.
As far as the defense is concerned, opt-out safety Patrick Chung shocked the organization when he announced his retirement earlier this offseason. That made it all the more important that linebacker Dont’a Hightower would eventually confirm his return.
The last we heard about Hightower’s status for next season came a few months ago when teammate Devin McCourty revealed the 31-year-old was planning to report to the Patriots this offseason, which went a long way towards quelling the retirement speculation.
However, that narrative made a triumphant return during OTAs this week, as Hightower was nowhere to be found.
While head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged that each player is dealing with their own circumstances, he was noncommittal about Hightower’s future.
Don’t…don’t love that.
We’re starting to worry about Dont’a Hightower’s status for the 2021 Patriots.
It’s worth noting that organized team activities are voluntary this early in the offseason, so Hightower technically doesn’t have to show up. However, as a defensive captain who’s raved about by teammates for the impact he has in the locker room, his absence is definitely something worth monitoring moving forward.
Trying to throw cold water on the situation, Belichick implied that certain players on the roster have legitimate reasons for not being in attendance.
"“Yeah, well, all the players that are on the roster and not here, then my expectations are that they intend to play,”Belichick told reporters on Thursday. “But we know things can change, and that’s always a part of life and a part of football. So we’ll take it as it comes.”“Each guy has his own circumstances, so I’m not going to get into that. But we’ll see how it goes on some of the players that aren’t here — which there’s a number of them that aren’t. But we’ll welcome them when they get here, it’s all voluntary. So when they’re here, they’re here, and we’ll work with them.”"
Luckily for Patriots fans’ collective blood pressure, Hightower and his new wife revealed on Instagram that they got married over the weekend at their home in Nashville. Short of dealing with a death in the family, your own wedding is about as strong of an excuse as there is to be missing from late-May practices.
While we understand Patriots fans who want to burst a gasket picturing this defense without Hightower’s imposing presence in the middle of the field, his marriage proves the overreactions should be tabled until mandatory offseason sessions begin.
With those set to get underway in about three weeks on June 14, we’ll know soon enough whether Hightower will be suiting up for the Patriots next season.