With free agency only days away, well days as in 9 or 8 depending on if you count today, rumors will begin ramping up as the NFL Combine kicks into full gear and the name Dont’a Hightower may be on the lips of the Miami Dolphins.
If you read social media you will hear accolades, disclaimers, and warnings regarding every free agent that is about to hit the market. When it comes to Hightower, it’s no different. Some love the idea of him being a Miami Dolphin and others want nothing to do with him.
Somewhere in between is where Miami should be when it relates to the talented but as you will learn, underachieving linebacker.
First we need to understand the money that will pour out of some teams salary cap for Hightower. The current estimates put Hightower’s floor at around $11 million but free agency is a fickle time for NFL teams and there will always be teams with so much cash to spend that they will throw loads of it at players who are not worth it. Olivier Vernon anyone?
Hightower has been consistent if nothing else. In his five seasons with the Patriots he has started 64 of 67 possible games missing only 13 games. He has registered 251 tackles and 153 assists with 17 sacks. His largest tackle total in a single season came in 2013 when he posted 65 tackles.
Alonso is a good football player but he can better. For starters he is horrible at setting the edge and will often get taken out by a tight-end or tackle and at other times will over commit inside. The question is can he be coached up to eliminate those tendencies? The Patriots have some pretty good coaches on defense.
Many teams look at the Patriots for potential free agents. The Patriots are after all perennial AFC Championship participants for the last six seasons. Naturally when a player from the team becomes available, teams tend to take notice.
Unfortunately, players that leave New England don’t often find the same kind of success which could be an indication tha the player is more or less a system player who excels because of the situations he is put into to make plays.
It can be argued that some have been better than others. Wes Welker was good in Denver but he wasn’t Patriot Wes Welker good. Vince Wilfork played very well for the Houston Texans but was not the same disruptive force he was in New England.
Age of those players could be an issue. Especially with Wilfork who is walking away from the game. Younger players have not had similar success either though. Former Patriot stand-out Ben Watson was very impressive as a Patriot catching 20 touchdown passes in six seasons. This before Bill Belichick began focusing his offense on tight-end production.
Watson would spend three seasons with the Browns where he caught eight TD’s. He found more success with the Saints and Drew Brees catching 10 passes in three years. Watson should be considered a success after leaving New England.
The reality is the Patriots rarely let good talent leave while they are at or near their prime. Supposedly Hightower is around that period in his career so the question should be asked. Why are the Patriots o.k. with letting him test free agency? And if the answer is because they don’t see him worth $11 or $12 million a season, other teams should wonder the same thing.
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There is no question that Hightower makes the Dolphins defense better but how much better will they be? Will he be $12 million better? Will he reach a new level in play? Is he a game changing linebacker because in New England it can be argued that he wasn’t. Not consistently at least.
With so many needs and a lot of desperation in the organization to fix the defense, Hightower is a name that will be floated quite a bit in the next week and rightly so. Miami should look at Hightower as a possible solution outside but they should also watch the tape very closely and take a cautious approach when they start looking at the numbers it would take to get him on the team.