screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-10-28-15-pmBy Max Cohen 2/11/2017

There is no doubt that Dont’a Hightower is the core of the Patriots’ defense. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in the 4th quarter, which provided the Patriot offense with great field position and an easy touchdown, brought the Patriots’ to a one score deficit with plenty of time left on the clock. Hightower also made a game saving tackle in Super Bowl XLIX, fighting through a block and stopping Marshawn Lynch just short of the goal line a play before Malcom Butler’s interception.

Now, with Hightower headed to free agency, the real question is whether or not the Patriots will be willing to pay a premium price to retain their star linebacker. There are currently three linebackers in the league making $10 million a year, and with Hightower’s stellar performance this season (65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a safety), he has set himself up for a big pay day. Former Patriots’ linebacker Jamie Collins just received a 4 year $50-million-dollar contract, something the Patriots’ probably wouldn’t be likely to pay Hightower based on their history dealing with big free agents. Wes Welker was consistently the best slot receiver in the league based on catches and yardage, but the Patriots’ still wouldn’t match the Broncos’ offer in 2013 when he entered free agency

On the possibility of a hometown discount, Hightower hasn’t provided a clear answer. “We’ll see, man, we have a long time coming. We’ve got a long process going throughout,” Hightower said when Adam Schefter asked him about the issue. Head coach Bill Belichick will have the final say on what the Patriots’ offer Hightower.