When Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor ran through the arm tackle of New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower for a game-clenching 67-yard touchdown in the Week 15 matchup, it not only marked the beginning of a late season slide for the team, it also hinted at the decline of such a clutch big-play performer.
In his 10-year career in a Patriots’ uniform, Hightower seemingly always came through when the team needed a big play. In 2021, there were many situations where the three-time Super Bowl champion was in the right play but was not able to make the play fans are accustomed to him making.
The case against the New England Patriots re-signing Dont’a Hightower
Slow and at times looking uninspired, Hightower showed in 2021 that he is a player Bill Belichick should’ve moved on from a year or two sooner rather than letting him play out his contract, which was a surprise given how Belichick deals with aging players.
But, in Hightower’s defense, he was coming off a year off after opting out the entire 2020 NFL season. But, as he has shown glimpses for slowing down in previous seasons, the consensus was he would get better and look more like Hightower as the season went along.
Instead, his lack of making the big play during times the defense really needed it further exposed the team’s need for speed on the defensive side of the football which is every reason the New England Patriots should not re-sign Dont’a Hightower in 2022.
With the team’s need to get younger and more explosive, bringing back Hightower on a cheaper deal would make sense given his experience, but, if he expects to stay in the role he has been in for 10 seasons, he probably will need to move on if he doesn’t bail the Patriots out of the decision by deciding to retire.
But there may still be money out there for Hightower. Despite his dip in production with just 64 combined tackles and 1.5 sacks, the veteran linebacker is still considered the second-best linebacker in free agency. So, if he commits to play, he should have a market. It shouldn’t be with the Patriots unless he does return on a cheaper deal because the team needs the cap space to get younger and address some other needs.
In all, with all Hightower has done in his career with the New England Patriots, it would be hard to see him in a different uniform. But, it’s time for a new chapter at the linebacker position and as much respect as Belichick has for his longtime player, they can’t get younger or better by holding on to nostalgia and paying for past production.
That just has never been Belichick’s style or the Patriot Way over the decades.