5 Patriots who won’t be back with the team next season

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: N'Keal Harry #1 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: N'Keal Harry #1 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) /
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Dont'a Hightower of the New England Patriots
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

It was a successful season, but the New England Patriots were bounced early from the playoffs at the hands of the division-rival Buffalo Bills on Wild Card weekend. Not much that could’ve been done. This Patriots team clearly has its limitations. No rebuild happens in less than two years.

At the very least, Bill Belichick has his franchise quarterback, numerous weapons on offense, and a defense that’s probably always going to be a top-10 unit. That’s a foundation most other franchises would kill for.

But now that the 2021 season is over and changes are inevitably on the way, we’ve zeroed in on a number of guys who probably won’t be on the roster next year. Some of it has to do with poor play, lack of a role, or the team’s salary cap situation. All reasons are valid and must be taken into account.

The Patriots already have $184.6 million committed to the 2022 salary cap, which is $208.2 million. With $3 million in dead cap, Belichick and Co. have $26.8 million to spend in the offseason, which is good for 19th in the NFL. It’s not a bad budget whatsoever, but it’s going to restrict their flexibility. That means some beloved in-house players might be forced to sign their desired contracts elsewhere.

Though there are numerous others who might find themselves on a new team either when free agency opens or when the summer arrives, but we’d put our money on these five departing New England when the new league year begins.

These 5 Patriots won’t be on the 2022 roster.

5. LB Dont’a Hightower

Hightower feels like a Patriots lifer, but after opting out of the 2020 season and missing out on a chance to cash out a year early, it’s not farfetched to think the former Alabama star might try to get paid one last time.

He just wrapped up a four-year, $35.5 million contract and was the 19th highest-paid inside linebacker in the league. Do you really think there are 18 better inside linebackers than Hightower, who has arguably been the most valuable player on this defense for the better part of the last decade?

Perhaps … but at this point he might want to test his value on the open market rather than negotiating to remain on a team that could still be another few years away from true Super Bowl contention. The Patriots are certainly headed in the right direction, but the AFC has evident powerhouses that aren’t going away anytime soon.

The bright side? Should Hightower depart, there’s always the likelihood he finds his way back to New England when the fit isn’t right with whatever new team he may join.