Does Dont’a Hightower update rule out potential Patriots return?

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots seem like a good bet to add another linebacker before the start of training camp.

With the No. 21 overall pick, several draft analysts have mocked Georgia standout Nakobe Dean to the Patriots, though it’s highly possible they’d be able to find a potential starter in the second or third round.

Should the front office address other positions in the draft, free agency offers another outlet. With established vets like Alexander Johnson, Anthony Hitchens and Kwon Alexander, among others, still available, New England could use some of its remaining cap space to plug the hole.

Speaking of free agents, Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned, and it seems as though it’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.

According to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Hightower is still mulling the next steps of his career. Yes, retirement is once again on the table.

Patriots free agent Dont’a Hightower is still deciding his NFL future.

This is pretty noteworthy, as it was reported before free agency that Hightower planned on playing another season. For someone who didn’t report to offseason workouts until mid-June last year, Patriots fans shouldn’t expect Hightower to reach a decision for at least another month, if not longer.

The Patriots could certainly use Hightower’s natural instincts and veteran leadership, but with them looking to inject more speed at the position we can’t help but wonder if he’s run his course with the franchise.

Last season, Hightower logged his lowest snap share (57%) since his rookie campaign back in 2011. While he was stout against the run, his 34.5 coverage grade ranked third-worst among linebackers, per Pro Football Focus.

The verbiage of Howe’s tweet suggests Hightower would be open to returning to Foxborough if he continues playing. Or maybe the three-time champ is mulling the possibility of suiting up elsewhere? Nobody knows, but Belichick shouldn’t stick around waiting for Hightower to make a decision.

With Mack Wilson and Ja’Whaun Bentley penciled in as the starters and virtually zero depth behind them, the Patriots should look to get younger in the draft and free agency before they consider a Hightower reunion.

By cutting Van Noy (31) and opting not to re-sign Jamie Collins (32), New England is very clearly transitioning to a new era at the position. Wilson just turned 24 in February and Bentley won’t turn 26 until August, by the way.

Should Hightower become available down the road for depth purposes, the Patriots will have to shuffle some money around before they sign him because they currently don’t have enough cap space to sign their 2022 draft class.