Patriots’ Future Hall-of-Famer Could Return in ‘Reduced Role’

Getty Dont'a Hightower

When it is all said and done, Dont’a Hightower will have a place in the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame. He has played a key role on three Super Bowl championship teams and was voted to the organization’s 2010s All-Decade team.

However, he is currently a free agent after a hit-and-miss 2021 season that saw him battle age and perhaps rust after sitting out the entire 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns.

During his May 31 media availability, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick declined to talk about Hightower, 32, or any other player who isn’t currently on the team’s roster, but that didn’t stop NESN’s Zack Cox from speculating about a potential role for the veteran linebacker.

“If he did return, Hightower most likely would take on a reduced, more specialized role in a linebacking corps that coaches acknowledged needed to get faster and more explosive than it was in 2021,” Cox wrote.

“It’s also not clear whether Hightower, who would be the oldest player in New England’s front seven, even wants to continue playing, or whether he’d be interested in a non-starting role,” Cox wrote. “An April report from The Athletic’s Jeff Howe indicated he was ‘still figuring out what he wants to do’ and ‘could take a while longer’ before he makes a decision.”

The Patriots lacked team speed in 2021 (they ranked 29th, according to an October ESPN story) and it was most apparent at the linebacker position, where Hightower was often the target of opposing offenses who took advantage of his compromised athleticism.

Hightower, who is used to playing at a high level, might not want to return in a reduced role. And he simply might not be able to perform the way he once did for the Patriots. Perhaps Hightower’s next football move could be becoming a coach. He’s certainly been a leader for the Patriots over the course of his career, and following in the footsteps of former teammate Jerod Mayo , who is on New England’s staff, could be a natural fit for him.

In Other Patriots News: Damien Harris Throws Out 1st Pitch at Red Sox Game

The link between Boston sports teams and their players is about as strong as you’ll find in any region across the United States. The Patriots have been showing and are likely to continue to show support for the Boston Celtics as they attempt to upset the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Likewise, Patriots players have shown up and shown out for the Boston Red Sox. Most recently, Patriots running back Damien Harris threw out the first pitch on Wednesday. He didn’t burn it in there, but he didn’t embarrass himself.

Take a look at the toss:

Perhaps Harris was good luck. The Red Sox clobbered the Cincinnati Reds 7-1.

In Other Patriots News: Expert Isn’t Predicting a Huge Year For Rookie WR

Tyquan Thornton was selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft, which means he’ll have to deal with the lofty expectations that come with that draft slot.

Thornton’s speed is his best attribute but one team expert doesn’t think it’ll help him produce a big season as a rookie. NBC Sports’ Tom E. Curran was a guest on “The Rich Eisen Show” on May 31 and he had a modest prediction for Thornton’s rookie season.

According to Curran, the Patriots are “up against it this year.” Curran believes Thornton will have fewer than 30 catches, which is even fewer than the receptions Nelson Agholor (37) had in 2021.

One season isn’t enough to completely devalue a player, but it is safe to say Thornton would get the bust label if he can’t manage at least 30 receptions.

If Thornton can become a playmaker, New England’s offense will look a lot more explosive. The team hasn’t had the kind of receiver capable of taking the top off opposing defenses. Thornton has the potential, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s what he becomes.

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