By: Jake Mackey
It is Friday of the week following the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. The team partied their way through the streets of Boston and officially turned the page to the 2017 season when they started the chant, “we want six” in front of thousands of fans at City Hall Plaza.
Now players are off to warmer environments, and with contracts running up in a month players will start to meet with agents to discuss all the money that awaits them.
For the Patriots, they have a long list of free agents this offseason that includes the following key players; Dont’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Alan Branch, Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and James Develin. In addition, Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent and is set to be unrestricted next season.
Without question, the most valuable player on that unrestricted free agent list is Dont’a Hightower. Since he was drafted 25th overall in 2012, he has been the prototypical Bill Belichick player. He has played on the inside, outside, stuck his hand in the turf, and has even had himself exposed in coverage. In addition, starting in his second season when Jerod Mayo went down, he took over the role of signal caller on defense. He struggled when he first started to take over the Mayo role on defense, but as he gained experience he became one of the best linebackers in the National Football League.
Most importantly, in two Super Bowls he has made two game saving plays. In Super Bowl XLIX, he bench pressed Seattle tackle Russell Okung off of him and tackled Marshawn Lynch preventing him from crossing the goal line right before the Butler interception.
He also did that with a torn labrum. In Super Bowl LI, he came crashing into the backfield on third down with under ten minutes to play down 28-12, forcing a strip sack that put momentum completely on the side of the Patriots.
Dont’a Hightower is the second coming of Willie McGinest, and the Patriots need to do what they usually do with home grown first-round picks, and that is extend their rookie deals. Belichick did it with Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, and most recently Devin McCourty. Now it is Hightower’s time. However, this week Hightower spoke about his impending free agency on Adam Schefter’s podcast, “Im sure it will be a journey, a rough and rocky one. But i’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to what’s coming my way.”
If Hightower’s former teammate Jamie Collins received a four-year 50 million-dollar contract with Cleveland, then he will certainly look for much of the same if not more seeing how he is a more valuable and better player.
I would be shocked if either of the Rutgers duo from the 2013 draft in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan were back in New England come the spring time. Both players are at the end of their rookie deals and even given all their flaws, they were starting players on a championship level number one defense. Logan Ryan is in a comparable position to Byron Maxwell two years ago. Maxwell after playing next to Richard Sherman received a four-year 63 million-dollar deal from Philadelphia. There will be a team that will look at Ryan and see a number one corner even though he has benefited from playing behind top corners such as Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, and Malcolm Butler for the past four years. Duron Harmon will more than likely see much of the same.
The team has been anticipated the departures of these two for some time now. They drafted a safety in Jordan Richards in the second round of the 2015 draft, and a corner in Cyrus Jones in the second round last spring. While just hearing the name Cyrus Jones makes Patriots fans cringe, he is still only 23-years old and did not see a great deal of time on defense last season. In addition, according to all the so called, “draft experts” this spring’s draft is heavy on defensive backs.
I would expect veterans such as Branch, Long, Blount, Bolden, and James Develin all to be back in Patriots uniforms come training camp. They just seem to be players that mold perfectly with the Patriots system. The same goes for Danny Amendola who will need to take another hefty pay cut for the third straight season, but again he is a guy that just seems to love the role he has in Foxborough.
Martellus Bennett and Jabaal Sheard are as good as gone. Neither performed anywhere near their expectations in 2016. Finally, yes Rob Gronkowski will be back. His value is at an all-time low right now and he is still at on an extremely team friendly deal.