Patriots might want Dont’a Hightower as a franchise player

A few little moves made something clear for one New England Patriots linebacker, who is set to become a free agent at the end of this season.

Picking up on what the Patriots have done, it looks like they see Dont’a Hightower as a franchise player — the kind of guy who could replace the Jerod Mayo of old. Hightower was given Mayo’s old locker in the Gillette Stadium locker room. Before Mayo had it, the locker belonged to Willie McGinest.

Injuries derailed Mayo’s career, one he cut short this past offseason by announcing his retirement.  The reason Mayo retired after eight seasons is because he did not want to play anywhere else other than New England. At least, that’s what his retirement Instagram post said.

RETIRING A PATRIOT.

A photo posted by Jerod Mayo (@jerod_mayo51) on

Hightower is in his fifth season with the Patriots (believe it or not, it’s been that long). And he has developed into quite the staple among the Patriots crew of linebackers. He was named to the all-Pro team in 2014 and with Rob Ninkovich’s status in doubt, Hightower’s value to the Patriots only increases. Ninkovich’s production won’t be replaced if he’s out, but they will expect more from Hightower. But it would be tough to replace Ninkovich’s production.

The locker move is not guarantee, but maybe, just maybe it shows that Hightower is a part of their plans for the future. There is no way of knowing for sure, but why wouldn’t he just keep his old locker? Plus, the Patriots are going to have to pick and choose who they re-sign after this season and certainly, they cannot just let everyone walk. That would kill their defense.

One has to wonder if the Pats would consider using a franchise tag on Hightower for the 2017. But at the same time, they are not going to be talking about his contract while the season is going on — let alone before it even starts. There’s still a lot of football to be played.