Why did it take so long for Dont’a Hightower’s market to come in free agency?

Maybe it wasn’t just because teams didn’t see how they could use him properly, but rather teams had some injury concerns.

The Jets reportedly had injury concerns wth Dont'a Hightower. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

The Jets reportedly had injury concerns wth Dont’a Hightower. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Why did it take so long for Dont’a Hightower’s market to come in free agency?

Maybe it wasn’t just because teams didn’t see how they could use him properly, but rather teams had some injury concerns.

Hightower battled shoulder and knee issues in 2016 and has only played a full season once in his five-year career, not playing more than 13 games in each of his last three seasons.

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Jets’ interest in Hightower “zeal diminished” after giving him a physical when he was in for a visit on Sunday. The report added the Jets made an initial offer of $62.5 million over five years, but after the physical the guarantees wouldn’t be something Hightower would agree to.

The MMQB’s Albert Breer added the Jets actually pulled their offer after the physical, so it appears there were legitimate concerns with the linebacker.

The Patriots know Hightower better than anyone in the league given he’s spent five years with the organization, and were seemingly comfortable signing him to a four-year deal, but it definitely is worth noting a possible reason it took so long for his market to develop was because of injury concerns.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
The Jets reportedly had injury concerns wth Dont'a Hightower. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

The Jets reportedly had injury concerns wth Dont’a Hightower. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Why did it take so long for Dont’a Hightower’s market to come in free agency?

Maybe it wasn’t just because teams didn’t see how they could use him properly, but rather teams had some injury concerns.

Hightower battled shoulder and knee issues in 2016 and has only played a full season once in his five-year career, not playing more than 13 games in each of his last three seasons.

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Jets’ interest in Hightower “zeal diminished” after giving him a physical when he was in for a visit on Sunday. The report added the Jets made an initial offer of $62.5 million over five years, but after the physical the guarantees wouldn’t be something Hightower would agree to.

The MMQB’s Albert Breer added the Jets actually pulled their offer after the physical, so it appears there were legitimate concerns with the linebacker.

The Patriots know Hightower better than anyone in the league given he’s spent five years with the organization, and were seemingly comfortable signing him to a four-year deal, but it definitely is worth noting a possible reason it took so long for his market to develop was because of injury concerns.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Malcolm Butler has given the Patriots plenty of reasons to celebrate. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)The Patriots do not fear letting their players hit the free agent market. Go find an offer, they say. See what's out there.



Malcolm Butler appears destined for New Orleans. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Butler appears destined for New Orleans. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Restricted free agent Malcolm Butler visited with the Saints on Wednesday and Thursday, and according to coach Sean Payton, the visit went well.

So well that Payton was comfortable talking about the 27-year-old on Xtra 360 radio in San Diego on Friday morning.

“You know, coming out of a small town in Mississippi and through junior college and into West Alabama, it’s pretty amazing,” Payton said courtesy of ESPN.com. “And the first three years he’s had in this league, shoot, he’s had a tremendous amount of success, winning two Super Bowls in three years and being a big part of a team that’s accomplished a lot. So I’d say he’s humble, but when you watch the tape, he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

Payton added: “We’ve practiced with New England now in that three-year time frame twice, so there’s a lot of additional practice tape that we have a chance to look closely at. And I’m sure Bill [Belichick] and his staff were the same way when evaluating [Brandin] Cooks.”

Butler is a restricted free agent, not an unrestricted free agent, which is where things get tricky.

Since the Patriots gave him the first-round tender, he’s on the books for $3.91 million in 2017 once he signs the deal and if another team places an offer sheet on him and the Patriots do not match, the Patriots get that team’s first-round pick in return. In the Saints’ case it would be the No. 11 overall pick. New Orleans appears hesitant to do that, but probably would be willing to part ways with their No. 32 pick, which they got from New England in the Brandin Cooks trade.

The way to get to that point would be working out a trade after Butler agrees to sign his tender offer. Given the relationship between Bill Belichick and Payton, this could happen. It’s also worth noting this could have came up last week in the Cooks trade talks and some agreement could have already been made, as Butler was rumored to be included in the deal, but ultimately wasn’t. Once Butler gets to the Saints, it’s likely he will get a long-term deal.

Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee Butler leaves New England because the Patriots hold all the leverage and it’s worth noting Mike Lombardi believes the cornerback is staying put. But, things have gone pretty far with the Saints and Butler has let his feelings be known that he’s open to joining the Saints. Because of both things, it’s pretty hard to imagine the cornerback will return to the Patriots.

Also, it’s very unusual for a coach to discuss a player after just a free agent visit unless he’s pretty certain that player ultimately is going to join the team. Even the Saints’ team Twitter account was getting involved on Thursday.

As the old saying goes, when there’s smoke there’s fire, and this certainly seems like a case of it being just a matter of time before Butler is with the Saints.

Don’t forget, the Patriots and Saints meet in New Orleans this season, which will be interesting.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Although it wasn’t much of a surprise given all the rumors last week, once it became official last Friday there were some questions of why exactly did the Saints trade Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Did Cooks want out? Did the Saints not want him?

Sean Payton said the move to trade Brandin Cooks was to improve the defense. (Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports)

Sean Payton said the move to trade Brandin Cooks was to improve the defense. (Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports)

Although it wasn’t much of a surprise given all the rumors last week, once it became official last Friday there were some questions of why exactly did the Saints trade Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Did Cooks want out? Did the Saints no want him?

Speaking to Mile High Sports in Denver, head coach Sean Payton said it had nothing to do with wide out Michael Thomas turning into a No. 1 receiver.

“I don’t know that in part that it had anything to do with our decision to trade Brandin,” Payton said. “I think for us it’s improving defensively, and we’re looking closely at all of our options to do that. He was a player — when I talk about Brandin — we weren’t actively shopping him. A handful of teams had called regarding possibly acquiring him. He’s a fantastic guy, someone who worked really, really hard here.”

The Saints acquired the Patriots’ first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in the trade, which could either be used to draft a good player, or potentially be used in a trade for Malcolm Butler.

Ultimately, it seems like the trade was to help a poor defense.

“I think ultimately one of the challenges sometimes especially here in this offense is the ball gets spread around some, and yet you’re looking at a player who had over 1,200 yards receiving,” Payton said. “And it really got down to an opportunity to help improve our team possibly defensively. We’ll be able to look at it three years down the road with what we’re able to do with the first-round pick and also the third-round pick.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Over the past week or so, a lot has happened with Malcolm Butler and the Patriots.

Maybe Malcolm Butler will not be traded. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Maybe Malcolm Butler will not be traded. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Over the past week or so, a lot has happened with Malcolm Butler and the Patriots.

It appears the 27-year-old cornerback is not happy playing for $3.91 million as a restricted free agent on a first-round tender, especially after the team signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year deal worth a reported $65 million.

Butler visited with the Saints on Thursday where the two sides reportedly started talking about a long-term deal. For the Saints to acquire him, they would need to present Butler with a deal the Patriots would not match, and then give up their No. 11 overall pick, or the two teams could work out a trade.

While momentum is trending towards Butler playing 2017 with the Saints, Michael Lombardi, a former Patriots executive and current The Ringer staffer, believes he will return to the Patriots and play for his $3.91 first-round tender.

“I think Malcolm Butler signs his tender, goes to New England, and puts the onus on New England,” Lombardi said on The Ringer’s football podcast Thursday. “‘Play great, I’ll make a huge deal next year. I’ll be 28 in March. I’ll make a huge deal out on the open market.’ New England’s not going to franchise him.”

Lombardi doesn’t think he’s a fit for the Saints at this time.

“Why pay Malcolm Butler $13 million or $14 million a year, sign him to a long-term deal, and then have to turn around a draft pick, when you are basically buying a 27-year-old player?” Lombardi said. “You’d be better off drafting a young corner and hopefully developing him.”

Lombardi added: “I don’t understand why they would pay as much as they’re going to have to pay to get Malcolm Butler financially, and then reward the [Patriots] with a draft pick. I think they’re better off looking in the draft.”

Certainly, this is a situation worth monitoring in the coming days and weeks.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Kony Ealy didn't expect to be traded by the Panthers. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Kony Ealy didn’t expect to be traded by the Panthers. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

With a number of defensive ends in Carolina, the Panthers felt they could not keep all of them and ended up by trading defensive end Kony Ealy to the Patriots along with a third-round pick in exchange for the Patriots’ second-round pick last Friday.

The trade caught Ealy off guard, but he understands the NFL is a business.

“No, but this is a business so you have to prepare for anything,” he said on a conference call Thursday when asked if he expected to be traded. “I’ve been preparing my whole life for different outcomes and obstacles so I try not to get up or down. It’s just another thing and another part of life. Just have to take your opportunities and make the most of them.”

Ealy, 25, was a second-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Missouri. He’s most known for his performance in Super Bowl 50 when he became the only player in Super Bowl history to record multiple sacks and record an interception in the game.

In his three seasons with the Panthers, he’s totaled 76 tackles and 14 sacks. The one knock on him his is inconsistency rushing the passer, which he will be asked to do as part of the Patriots’ rotation at defensive end. He’s had five sacks each of the last two seasons.

He’s looking forward to the opportunity of now playing for the Patriots.

“First of all, I would just like to thank the New England front office for choosing me, or allowing me to come and learn from the greats,” Ealy said. “Learning how to take my game to the next level. I am going to come in and try and contribute to another winning season.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable