On the cusp of NFL Training Camp, the status of one future Patriots Hall of Famer remains unknown. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, a key cog in the Dynasty 2.0 Patriots of the 2010s, is still a free agent just five days ahead of the start of camp. Hightower, 32, has been the Patriots de facto captain on the defensive side of the ball and played a key role in their three Super Bowl wins over the past decade.
A 2012 first round draft pick out of Alabama, Hightower emerged as an immediate starter at linebacker for the Patriots alongside Jerod Mayo. During his tenure in New England, Hightower secured two trips to the Pro Bowl, but his postseason heroics are what cemented his legacy in New England.
Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle is best known for Malcolm Butler’s goal line interception of Russell Wilson, which secured New England’s 4th title. However, that iconic play wouldn’t have been possible without Hightower. His one-armed tackle of Marshawn Lynch prevented the likely game-winning touchdown the play before.
The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl two years later against Atlanta in the infamous “28-3” game. Again, it was Hightower who stepped up when the Pats needed him most. Trailing by 14 with ten minutes remaining, Hightower’s strip sack of Matt Ryan set up the Patriots offense with great field position. Tom Brady would lead another touchdown drive and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s no coincidence that the Patriots only lost one Super Bowl during Hightower’s tenure in New England. After suffering a torn pectoral muscle in November 2017, Hightower was placed on injured reserve and missed the remainder of the season. The Patriots went on to lose to the Eagles in Super LII, surrendering 41 points in the process.
The Future for Hightower
After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, Hightower returned to the Patriots last season. He appeared to have lost a step, registering only 4 quarterback hits in 15 games played, the lowest total in his career. According to reports, Hightower is “still figuring out” his NFL future. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox linked the Dallas Cowboys to Hightower, potentially adding some depth at the linebacker position.
Whether it happens in New England or not, Hightower deserves a chance to end his NFL career on his own terms. The NFL is a cut-throat business where storybook endings rarely happen (Tom Brady plays for the Bucs…the BUCS!). However it ends, Hightower was the ultimate Patriot and is deserving of his Red Jacket and his future place in the Patriots Hall of Fame.