For the last seven years, this man has been the cornerstone of the New England Patriots defense. Since his days at the University of Alabama he has been all around the ball, making huge plays in huge games, and has been the defensive leader at middle linebacker. That was then. This is now. It’s 2018 and Dont’a Hightower is a shell of his old self. He should be cut by the Patriots immediately.
With the 25th pick in the 2012 NFL draft the New England Patriots selected Dont’a Hightower a 6’3” 260 pound mammoth of a linebacker out of Alabama. For years now, Hightower has been making plays in the middle of the Patriots defense. Now he looks like another leader of the Patriots defense when he was at the end of his career, Jerod Mayo.
Hightower is unfairly compared to Mayo all the time. Hightower was not nearly the player that Mayo ever was. Mayo was smaller, much faster, and was tackling machine. Mayo racked up 175 total tackles in 2010 which was a career best.
The best season of Hightower’s career is 113 tackles which he accomplished in 2013 and he hasn’t eclipsed 65 tackles since the 2014 championship season. Mayo through his eight year career amassed 803 total tackles. Through seven years Hightower is at 399 total tackles.
Mayo was a star before he got injured, and Hightower has always been a decent player. He’s never been amazing, and he’s not the stud that some people may think he is. Some may remember clearly how Mayo was not the same player at the end of his career. When I watch Hightower play he looks just like Mayo did: stiff, old, slow, unathletic, etc.
In the last three seasons Hightower has played thirty games. Over that same period, he has 140 total tackles. That’s not even close to being worthy of the lofty four year, $35.5 million contract that he signed in 2017. He has played in nine games and recorded 27 total tackles as well as two sacks in that time. About nine million dollars of the cap is going towards Hightower every year.
This is the type of play the Patriots are getting out of him. The stats are not very impressive. The best ability to have is availability, which he has not had since signing the big deal. He looks like a guy that should strictly be playing in short yardage, non-passing situations. He just can’t run anymore.
During the first four games of the 2018 NFL season he has one forced fumble, recorded thirteen total tackles, and has not recorded a sack. To compare the Patriots gave fellow Linebacker Kyle Van Noy a three year, $12.87 million contract with $5.5 million of it guaranteed. So far this season in four games Van Noy has nineteen total tackles, two pass deflections, one interception and one fumble recovery. With these stat discrepancies, if anyone should be making the big money for the Patriots, it should be Kyle Van Noy.
Hightower did miss most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, which could have something to do with his subpar start. However, he has shown a pattern of only average play over the last four years, which now is beginning to look pedestrian.
As great as the Patriot’s defense looked on Sunday in the 38-7 rout of the recently undefeated Dolphins, Hightower made virtually no impact when he had two total tackles on the day. He has not had more than five total tackles in a game all year, and has yet to make more than three solo tackles in a game
He won the Patriots a Super Bowl with his strip sack on Matt Ryan. That was two years ago. He’s missed a whole season since then. I think anyone that watches the tape can see that Hightower looks washed up. The Patriots need to part ways before it becomes even more evident how much his play has fell off. They can try to trade him to the highest bidder, but I don’t believe there will be any bidders that will be willing to absorb his contract for the quality of play he will provide to them.
Bill Belichick needs to make the hard decision to move on from him, or even offer him a job on the coaching staff if he would rather retire than hit the market. He’s almost 29 years old, and his body has taken a lot of pounding at linebacker. He’s not the same athlete he used to be, and his lack of speed is astoundingly noticeable.
The same thing happened to Jerod Mayo when he was 29 too. He realized after the years of punishment that the game had passed him by. He needed to step away from it.
The consensus college All-American and former NFL All-Pro has been a great leader in the locker room and a great presence on the field during his time in New England. Now, he’s a liability to the defense. Belichick knows better than anyone to cut a player before they get too old, and Hightower is already there.
The only factor that will most likely keep him on this roster is the sudden loss of stud rookie linebacker Ju’Whuan Bentley. The Patriot’s lack depth at the position now, so if they can’t find someone on the free agent market to fill that hole, Hightower may be the Patriots only option this year.
The NFL is a tough business and has been for years, if your play isn’t up to par you can’t be on the team. There’s no emotions it’s that simple. Hightower has not played even close to par. Some might even say if he was playing golf he would miss the cut.
It’s time to cut him. He will never get back up to par with the rest of the league with the abilities he has remaining. Hightower is on pace to average 28 solo tackles, and 24 assisted tackles on the season, all for a measly 52 total tackles. Unless something drastically changes overnight expect more of the same mediocrity from Hightower for the rest of his career going forward.
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