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The "where' part of the equation remains up in the air, with Hightower considering the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets". Re-signing Hightower was one of the most important things for the Patriots to accomplish this season, and they were able to achieve that.

Hightower, who won BCS National Championships with Alabama in 2009 and 2011 and Super Bowls with New England in 2014 and 2016, is coming off of a career season with the Patriots.

The new contract will include $19 million in guaranteed money and the average annual value of the deal ranks second among all linebackers behind Luke Kuechly.

The difference in the Patriots defense without Hightower goes deeper than that. A full-blown rebuild might as well, but the Jets seem to be floating somewhere between the two classifications. As you can see, on pass-rushing plays, Hightower's ability to get to affect the quarterback was profound. They faced the likes of Kyle Orton (twice), Sam Bradford, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

They re-signed Hightower, defensive tackle Alan Branch and safety Duron Harmon. About 10 minutes into the game, Hightower sustained a rib injury while making a tackle on Cowboys running back Joseph Randle and never returned.

Hightower will have the chance to win more Super Bowls with New England's improved defense.

The Patriots are used to major personnel turnover after every season, and usually make it clear from the outset which players their are willing to retain in free agency. He's also a leader on and off the field for a very talented defense, is a formidable tackler and is arguably the best blitzing inside linebacker in the NFL. But more importantly, it speaks to the lack of talent that's been built behind him on the linebacker depth chart, especially now that Collins is gone. But without No. 54, that linebacking group would have been uninspiring, to say the least.

Days after courting prized free agent Dont'a Hightower and even throwing him a birthday party, the Jets were turned down. Now you can expect Hightower's eventual replacement to be added to the roster in the next two years, if it isn't Roberts. Ultimately, Hightower chose to remain with his Super Bowl winning teammates in New England.


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