Free Agent, 3-Time Super Bowl Champion Predicted to Return to the Patriots

Getty Dont'a Hightower

The New England Patriots have a fleet of young linebackers ready to make their mark in the NFL. However, they may not be done with one of their legendary performers at the position.

Dont’a Hightower is a three-time Super Bowl champion and future member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, but he’s also a free agent. At 32 years old, Hightower is on the downside of his career and seemingly contemplated whether or not he wants to continue playing football.

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Hightower’s compromised athleticism seemed to get exposed at times in 2021, and his failed attempt to chase down Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen during the Patriots’ 47-17 loss in the postseason was like a microcosm of what ailed New England’s linebacker corps in 2021.

While it is obvious the Patriots needed to get younger and faster at linebacker, there is still some belief New England wants Hightower to return. His experience and knowledge are obviously still valued. Perhaps that’s why CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan has predicted Hightower will ultimately return to the Patriots.

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“Dont’a Hightower has been a key piece to multiple Super Bowl titles for the Patriots, but the veteran linebacker remains in the free-agent market,” Sullivan wrote. “The 32-year-old is still mulling his future in the NFL, but if he does decide to continue his career, a return to New England is the logical route.”

A June report written by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe implied the Patriots want Hightower to return. They obviously can’t wait forever. Perhaps the team is holding a roster spot for him while he makes up his mind about retirement.

What will they do if Hightower decides to hang up his cleats?

Trey Flowers Could Be an Option if Hightower Doesn’t Return

At this point in Hightower’s career, if he returns, he might be best suited for a role where he’s asked to rush the passer more than cover. The Patriots may have already laid that plan out for him, and whether he wants to accept that role could be the decision he’s mulling.

That’s a purely speculative take, but if it’s true–or at least in the ballpark–the backup plan for Hightower could be another former Patriot. Trey Flowers is also still a free agent.

After an injury-filled stint with the Detroit Lions, Flowers is still without a team multiple outlets have called New England his best landing spot. Flowers has struggled to stay healthy, missing 14 games over the past two seasons. Still, he could be an inexpensive and potentially fantastic signing if he can get back to his 2018 form when he had 7.5 sacks for the Patriots.

The Patriots’ Youth Movement at LB is Underway

The Patriots’ current linebacker group is packed with youth. Josh Uche (23), Cameron McGrone (22), Mack Wilson (24), Ja’Whuan Bentley (25), Ronnie Perkins (22), Raekwon McMillan (26) and Anfernee Jennings (25) are all 26 or younger. There is a chance each guy will make the team in some capacity, and it also seems unlikely none of the players in that group will pop in 2022.

Perhaps the return of Hightower would add the perfect seasoning of an experienced veteran with a winning pedigree.

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