Dont'a Hightower Re-Signs with New England Patriots on 4-Year Contract

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2017

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12:  Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have parted with key members of their defense in recent years, but they decided Dont'a Hightower was worth keeping around, re-signing him to a new deal Wednesday.

ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported Hightower was returning to New England. Hightower's agency SportsTrust Advisors confirmed the agreement. 

Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Hightower's deal with the Patriots will pay him $43.5 million over four years, with $19 million guaranteed. 

According to Spotrac, Hightower's average annual value of $10.2 million ranks second among inside linebackers.

Hightower's re-signing provides an end to an interesting free-agent saga. The veteran linebacker was choosing between the Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets, per Rapoport.

Hightower, 27, has spent the past five seasons with in New England after being a first-round pick in the 2012 draft. Although he finished with just 65 tackles this season, his efforts in the middle of the defense resulted in his first Pro Bowl selection.

Hightower doesn't deserve all of the credit, but the Patriots have ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense each season of his career and finished first in that category in 2016. They did so despite losing notable players such as Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, the latter two of whom were traded away.

Even with a seemingly revolving door of top players, Hightower will stick around after proving his worth while grasping the team mentality head coach Bill Belichick has installed.

"That's one thing we're able to do that's a real big key around here, especially in the Patriot Way, is smart football," the linebacker explained, per Mark Farinella of the Sun Chronicle. "All of it kind of boils down to when to play with emotion and when not to, and we have the right preparation, we do the right study and everything else, so it really comes down to execution."

The defending Super Bowl champions were already having a great offseason before re-signing Hightower, so this only further bolsters their success. They boosted their offense with the acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks and solidified their defense by signing free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore. 

The biggest question mark for Hightower moving forward is health. He dealt with multiple knee issues this past year and has only played a full 16-game season once in his five NFL seasons.

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.