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Posts tagged with "Free Agency 2017"

When I started writing these free agency preview pieces I didn’t even have Dont’a Hightower on my list since it seemed like a done deal that he would be back in New England. After all, thePatriots had traded away fellow linebackers Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins within the last 12 months and popular wisdom of the time said that their new plan was to build the defense around Hightower. It made sense. Hightower was a Belichick type guy: tough, physical, and smart. He was the heart and soul of the Patriots defense, so of course they were going to re-sign him, right? Well, maybe not. Reports out of New England now indicate that the defensive hero of the Patriots Super Bowl comeback is intent on entering the free agent market.

Another sign that he might be done in New England? He didn’t attend the team’s Super Bowl parade this week.

Sure, this could be nothing. Maybe he really just doesn’t like the cold, but a lot of his comments over the past two days are starting to sound like a guy who is serious about leaving New England. Hightower is one of the top 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL and a guy who has shown a knack for coming up big on the biggest stage the NFL has to offer.

The Stats

  • Age: 26 (will turn 27 on 3/12/2017)
  • Height: 6’-3”
  • Weight: 265 lbs
  • College: Alabama
  • Experience: 5 years
  • Drafted in 1st round (#25 overall) of 2012 NFL draft by New England

Dont’a Hightower Career Stats.csv

Year Team G Tkl Sck SFTY PDef Int
2016 New England Patriots 13 65 2.5 1 2
2015 New England Patriots 12 61 3.5 2
2014 New England Patriots 12 89 6 2
2013 New England Patriots 16 97 1 3
2012 New England Patriots 14 60 4 0 3
TOTAL 67 372 17 1 12 0

NFL.com

Draft Profile

Here is what NFL.com had to say about Hightower going in to the 2012 NFL Draft:

STRENGTHS

Hightower is lengthy and imposing lining up in the middle of a defense. He has long arms that he uses effectively to fight off blockers, dip and push to avoid trash at his feet, and keep balls close to him. He is not the most athletic mover in space, but he uses his arms to tie up receivers within his zone and hand fight tight ends off the ball. He is technically sound, although his style of play looks effortless. There are not many wasted motions in his movements, and he takes good angles to the ball when working both sides of the field. Although Hightower doesn’t quite possess the speed to be a true sideline-to-sideline inside backer or be the sole tackler in the middle of a 3-4 defense, he uses his instincts well and remains in position.

WEAKNESSES

Hightower has a big frame and can labor at times to move in extended spaces on the field. He excels within the box but likely won’t run down many scat backs at the next level. He is good to defend the pass in zone but struggles to maintain coverage in man after trying to disrupt at the line. Hightower struggles to flip his hips in man looks, and there are times when he has to change direction unexpectedly. He isn’t heavy-footed, but he pursues the ball with a lot of momentum and can overshoot plays at times.

How Hightower Fits the Titans

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Eric Berry is one of the most exciting defensive players I have ever watched play football. He really needs no introduction around this part of the country since most of us (even non-UT fans) have been following his career since he picked off Tim Tebow and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown

It would be the first of 14 interceptions of his college career which resulted in 494 interception return yards, finishing just 7 yards short of Terrell Buckley’s NCAA record 501 career interception return yards. Fun Fact: Kevin Byard checks in at #14 on that list with 377 career interception return yards. Berry wasn’t “just” an interception machine though. He was a big hitter and sure tackler who seemed to fly around the field like a guided missile.

Both safety positions for the Titans have been in a state of change the last few seasons. After being a staple of the Titans defense for 9 years, Michael Griffin was released after the 2015 season, and replaced by a combination of Rashad Johnson and Kevin Byard in 2016. The Titans signed Da’Norris Searcy two years ago to lock down the other safety spot, but after spending 2015 as the full time starter he ended up on the short end of a rotation with Daimion Stafford this past season.

Most fans and analysts believe that Byard will be a long term starter for the Titans at one safety spot based on his excellent rookie season. One of the best aspects of Byard’s rookie year was that he showed the ability to play both the deep, traditional free safety role and the in-the-box traditional strong safety role meaning the Titans have a lot of flexibility with regards to the “type” of safety that they could consider playing next to him. Ideally I would like to see another do-it-all type guy next to Byard so we can more easily hide our schemes based on alignment. Who that other safety is moving forward is less certain. Johnson and Stafford are both unrestricted free agents this offseason so there is no guarantee that either of those guys will be back with the Titans in 2017. Searcy isn’t a major liability on the field, but he hasn’t played to the level of being the 5th highest paid strong safety in the NFL over the past two years. If the Titans have a shot at a guy like Berry, Searcy could be released to offset $4.5M of the new safety’s salary in 2017 and over $6M of his salary in 2018. I will talk more about the likelihood of Berry actually becoming available later, but let’s get to know a little more about his professional career first.

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