Despite scheduling visits with the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, free-agent linebacker Dont'a Hightower is expected to re-sign with the New England Patriots.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Jets and Titans left their meeting with Hightower "convinced" he would return to the only professional home he's known.
Hightower, 27, spent his first five seasons with the Patriots. He recorded 65 tackles and 2.5 sacks, earning his first Pro Bowl berth and a second-team All-Pro selection in 2016. The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls with Hightower acting as a stabilizing force in the middle of their front seven.
Zoltan Buday of Pro Football Focus highlighted how important Hightower's versatility was to New England's success last season:
In that sense, it's a bit of a surprise Hightower wasn't one of the first free agents off the market. NFL.com ranked him fourth on its list of the top 101 free agents. Adrian Peterson and Dontari Poe are the only other top-10 players remaining on the market, and only six of the 20 top available players are still available.
"I love what I have in New England," Hightower told ESPN's Adam Schefter of his free-agency plans in February. "I don't have too much drawn up. I just want to be respected and loved."
The Patriots have already had a busy offseason, trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a big deal. They also brought back free-agent safety Duron Harmon. Keeping Hightower on a long-term deal would only further solidify New England's standing as a favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Pro Football Focus ranked Hightower as the No. 12 linebacker in the sport last season, and his do-anything attitude provides necessary versatility and leadership for Bill Belichick's defense. His willingness to meet with other teams is an understandable attempt to drive his own market. But given his high profile and the amount of cash flying around the NFL, the fact that he's yet to sign makes it all the likelier he's waiting for the Pats to get their ducks in a row.