FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' aggressive offseason continued on Wednesday with linebacker Dont'a Hightower agreeing to re-sign with the club. This is arguably the most important signing for the team this offseason.
Terms: Four years, $43.5 million, with $19 million in bonuses and guarantees.
ESPN 150 ranking: Second
Grade: A-plus. The Patriots and Hightower are a perfect match based on Hightower not fitting into the prototypical linebacker box, and the Patriots having a creative, multiple defensive scheme that brings out the best in him. It was a process for the sides to reach this point as Hightower first visited the Jets and then the Steelers before deciding to return. He wanted to explore the open market, which could be the only time in his career he'd have that opportunity, and then assess those options against the one he knew best in New England, which was appealing to him from the standpoint of security/stability and winning. This is a generous, fair deal for Hightower, who has earned it.
What it means: The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Hightower is one of the NFL's most physical linebackers and calls the defensive signals as the primary communicator on defense. Because of that, he is the first domino to fall before each play and what he does affects the other 10 players on defense. Having to possibly replace that was something the Patriots hoped they wouldn't have to do, and this ensures they won't. A first-year captain in 2016, this extension also sends a message to the rest of the locker room that players drafted and developed in the system who do things the right way can be rewarded with deals that are close to top of the market. The Patriots did it with safety Devin McCourty two years ago. Hightower, as projected, had a similar end result.
Hightower could be next "54" in Patriots Hall: In his first five years with the Patriots, Hightower proved he was a foundation-type player. Now with a four-year extension, he can elevate himself into the discussion among the franchise's all-time greats, potentially following linebacker Tedy Bruschi (the linebacker who wore No. 54 before Hightower) into the team's Hall of Fame if the next four years resemble his first five. What stands out most about Hightower? The greater the stakes, the greater the chance he makes impact plays.