Today the New England Patriots successfully resigned linebacker Dont’a Hightower to a four year deal worth $43.5 million ($19 million guaranteed), fighting off the division rival New York Jets. Hightower was one of the hottest names on the market and had interest from several other teams across the league when free agency started on March 9th.
When the Patriots decided not to use the franchise tag on Hightower, reports were that he wanted to test the market to find out what his true value was. After visits to both the Steelers and the Jets, Hightower decided to return to Foxboro and rejoin the Patriots to help defend their Super Bowl title.
This is just the latest of a long list of moves that the Patriots have made so far this offseason. The signings of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Lawrence Guy as well as the acquisition of defensive end Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers have added depth to an already loaded defense that returns defensive tackle Alan Branch, safety Duron Harmon and Hightower who resigned as free agents. Offensively the Patriots added running back and special teamer Rex Burkhead from the Cincinnati Bengals and traded for Colts tight end Dwayne Allen and Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
After losing virtually nobody in comparison to their recent acquisitions, the Patriots are somehow winning the offseason a mere five weeks after they paraded through the city of Boston after their miraculous Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The one question mark remains about restricted free agent Malcolm Butler.
The 27 year old cornerback is entering his fourth season with the Patriots and is looking for a contract extension that would give him the salary of a top corner in the league. The Patriots placed a first round tender on Butler, which means a team who wants to sign him would have to give their first round draft pick to the Patriots should the they not match the offer. There has been speculation that he will be traded before then but nothing is certain yet. Butler signed a one year deal worth $3.91 million that he will be owed in 2017 if he does not find a better deal but with his talent and production it would be very surprising if that held up. Losing Butler would be a big loss for New England as they already lost cornerback Logan Ryan to the Tennessee Titans last week. Ryan was inconsistent at times but did a great job covering the slot for the Patriots. Although Butler rarely played inside, he is more than capable of replacing Ryan in that position with Stephon Gilmore now playing on the outside.
The Patriots are not usually the team to make major moves in the offseason so the last month has been slightly out of character. The Patriots do not have a draft choice until the third round (72) and I think it is because they are trying to give Tom Brady every opportunity to win while he is still playing at a high level. There is still plenty of time for more moves to be made but the Patriots are off to a great start in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.