Has Bill Belichick officially closed door on Dont’a Hightower?

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 are kicking off their offseason program without the presence of veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Even though he’s starting to get a little long in the tooth, the idea of Bill Belichick going into the year without Hightower captaining his defense seems alien to most young Patriots fans.

After missing out on the 2020 season due to his opt-out and coming back for a solid 2021, the Patriots have not brought Hightower back for the 2022 campaign just yet. In true Belichick fashion, he appears to be parting with the veteran and rolling with a homegrown young player in Josh Uche.

As good as Uche is, he likely will not beef up the entirety of the defense by himself. Belichick was asked about the possibility of potentially bringing back Hightower to provide insurance against Uche not progressing, but he didn’t seem too interested in doing so.

“We’ll just talk about the players who are on the team right now,” Belichick said in his usually curt style of addressing such things with the media. With Hightower himself still allegedly figuring out what he wants to, it seems like Belichick is ready to turn the page on him.

Is Dont’a Hightower done with the Patriots?

A two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro performer, Hightower has recorded just under 600 tackles and 27 sacks in his career. One of the last members of a dying breed of oversized linebackers that love to live in the gaps, Hightower is a special challenge teams have to plan for.

Even if you go beyond the stat sheet, you’ll see that Hightower is one of the most criminally underrated players the game has ever seen. Belichick needed a very specific type of linebacker to make so many of his great defenses work, and Hightower was able to fill that role with ease.

Even as Belichick allowed defensive cornerstones to leave as high-priced free agents, he bent over backward to continually retain Hightower. Uche has a similar skill set, but he will have a long way to go when it comes to replacing a standout like Hightower.

There is still a non-zero chance that Hightower returns to the Pats, as they have some cap wiggle room and failed to add tons of impact players at the linebacker spot (sorry, Mack Wilson doesn’t count). Even if Hightower decides that he’s had enough of life in the pros, his legacy as a Patriots immortal is firmly set in stone.