Hightower has played five seasons for the Patriots, and he'll be 31 years old upon the completion of his second contract, which runs through 2020.
Hightower is one of the most important pieces of New England's defense, but the Patriots still let him test the market for a while before he made a decision to return. He'd drawn interest from the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Our Steelers Insider Ed Bouchette joined Cook and Poni to discuss the visit among other Steelers headlines. "Happy Birthday Dont'a Hightower" was shown on the screens inside the Jets' facility in Florham Park, New Jersey, and the team sent Hightower's mother some Jets merchandise. They would have a deal in place once the clock struck 1 p.m. ET on the first day of free agency. Still, it hurts to lose out on him, especially when the Patriots are the favorites to re-sign him.
The Patriots have chosen not to retain some key defensive players from their last two Super Bowl teams: Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Logan Ryan.
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Hightower has finished just one National Football League regular season, as he had knee issues in recent years.
Although the Patriots know what he can do on the field, they can only hope health issues don't limit him in the coming years.
The question for the Steelers moving forward, if not Hightower: What now? Because perhaps the market for the star linebacker hasn't been as robust (re: lucrative) as they'd hoped when they set out into the waters of free agency.
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It's unclear where his cap number falls in 2017 among Patriots players, because the yearly breakdown of his contract have yet to be annoucned. While he was always a quality starter, the Alabama product was named to his first Pro Bowl and finished with 65 tackles two and a half sacks and a forced fumble in his 13 games.