On Wednesday, linebacker Dont’a Hightower signed a four-year, $43.5 million deal to remain with the New England Patriots.
The new contract will include $19 million in guaranteed money and the average annual value of the deal ranks second among all linebackers behind Luke Kuechly.
In 2016, Hightower had 65 total tackles (31 solo, 34 assisted) with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble through 13 regular season games. In the playoffs, he posted 13 more tackles (9 solo, 4 assisted) along with a sack and a forced fumble on the way to the Super Bowl victory.
When it mattered most, he came to play.
While his numbers don’t jump off the page, he made game-changing plays in Super Bowls XLIX and LI. He’s also a leader on and off the field for a very talented defense, is a formidable tackler and is arguably the best blitzing inside linebacker in the NFL.
In fact, his blitzing ability was game-changing last season. Consider the following.
Total QBR, a stat used by ESPN only, is basically a more in-depth way of evaluating quarterback play as a whole. (Think of it as the traditional quarterback rating found on all box scores, but amped up to include meaningful plays that align with the flow of the game.) A score of 50 is considered to be average. As you can see, on pass-rushing plays, Hightower’s ability to get to affect the quarterback was profound.
While the Patriots keep things varied on the defensive front and like to keep opposing offenses guessing, Hightower's ability to be a difference-maker when applying pressure to quarterbacks is not only a luxury, but it was much-needed for New England in the past few seasons. It's also worth noting that his full impact does not appear on the stat sheet, as his ability to alter plays has to be viewed to be completely understood.
Not only did the signing make a whole lot of sense for the Patriots, but it also adorably made his mom dance like this.
After winning the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been very active in the free agency period.
They re-signed Hightower, defensive tackle Alan Branch and safety Duron Harmon.
They also added tight end Dwayne Allen, former AFC East rival cornerback Stephon Gilmore, speedy and dynamic wide receiver Brandin Cooks, nifty and versatile running back Rex Burkhead and defensive end Lawrence Guy.
In other words, they’re on a whole different level than everyone else and will already be going into the 2017 season as an improved team (on paper).
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