|Posted by Radatz on March 12, 2017 at 2:55 PM|
With NE being so active in the market lately questions about how to handle roster attrition have slid to the back burner. So far they've lost Logan Ryan, Jabaal Sheard, Martellus Bennett and some others with more (Long, Blount etc.) no doubt to come. A number of their acquisition moves have anticipated or reacted to the situation. The two most visible issues are Hightower and Butler.
Here are defensive players who've arguably made two of the key plays that enabled NE to win its last two championships. Butler's pick at the conclusion of XLIX stands out, but Hightower's strip-sack of Ryan in LI was just as important, if less dramatically timed. So you have two SB heroes. What do you do?
Butler's situation took a strange turn when, against all expectation, he wasn't dealt to NO for Cooks --- but NE got Cooks anyway with draft picks. He clearly wants big money --- how big being a topic for conjecture and possibly the key point --- but he's a RFA. His tender is at least historically unlikely to draw bidders. NE can keep him on board another year. He'd have to sabotage his NFL career to pout his way out of it. Still, they'd presumably like a signed and happy Butler to remain at corner, Gilmore notwithstanding. They won't want a malcontent, and likely won't tolerate one, even Butler.
Hightower is another story. Jamie Collins got overpaid by Cleveland and is Hightower's pal. But Hightower's got another ring. So it's money vs. success. It's amazing to us how, for a 15% salary hike, players with millions already will flock to oblivion. But they do it. It may be one factor NE uses to determine how much of a fit the guy is. Even without both Collins and Hightower, NE is pretty well stocked with linebackers. The current crew was shredded by Atlanta (along with the rest of the defense), but came up big when it counted. Still, NE would presumably like Hightower back.
Reports are that the Jets are the primary contender for him. Why the Jets would want him is a topic for conjecture as they seem to need a thousand draft picks more than free agents at this point. Thinking that (1) it would get him away from NE and (2) it would give them a guy to help get to Brady may be short-sighted. But it's the Jets, and whatever their reasons they are a threat to get him. The Patriots aren't pushing any panic buttons though. And why would they? The last time they let the Jets peel a key player away it was Revis, and he's become a waste of money. Are they actually using Hightower as a way to sink their rival further? Probably not since the Jets don't seem to need sinking at the moment. But it's possible.
Probably the only giveaway might be for NE to either draft a highly regarded LB or acquire one. But even without doing so, note that they acquired 3 of them in midseason last year and despite media anguish the loss of Collins wasn't felt. All three stuck with the roster and contributed. NE may have been anticipating the current situation early. May have been? Make that "clearly were." If Hightower goes to the Jets for, say, a 15% increase, it will tell a lot about his priorities. Bread on the table is light years away from the economics of scale here. All this may also be a reason for Hightower to re-sign. He may be balancing the same issues. Of course his agent will take the 15% and its increase in commission. They don't exactly work "for you."
The most likely answer of all is that, in the end, NE will do what they think is best for the team long-term. And why not? They alone know the inner details. And it's been working pretty well for 16 years. Revis isn't the only example of why you don't sink into the cap cellar to retain a player. Denver let their only remaining QB with PT slip away last year. Did it help them? Maybe not. But would the $70M alternative have been better? Who thinks that?
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