With linebacker Dont’a Hightower ready to hit the free agent market, don’t rule out the Tennessee Titans being a suitor.
Hightower, who played high school football at Marshall County (about an hour south of Nashville) before going on to the University of Alabama, is said to like the appeal of the possibility of playing close to home.
In that vein, the Titans and Atlanta Falcons, who lost to Hightower’s Patriots in Super Bowl LI, could be the most attractive options if Hightower is looking to get back near his home or to play somewhere in the southeastern part of the country. Per a league source, Hightower seems open to that possibility, if he leaves New England.
Hightower has been a key part of the Patriots defense since being a first-round pick in 2012, but Coach Bill Belichick elected not to place the franchise tag on their star linebacker, allowing him to test the free agent market, which opened Tuesday as far as negotiations.
Hightower will be pricey for sure – think of his former Patriots teammate Jamie Collins’ four-year, $50 million deal with Cleveland as a starting point – but the Titans have $61 million in cap space and can use a three-down linebacker to upgrade their nickel defense.
Last season, inside linebackers Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard were solid players, but Woodyard usually came off the field in nickel situations in favor of Sean Spence, who is a free agent. The Titans need inside linebacker help from the standpoint of sheer numbers, with little in the way of depth behind their starters. And Hightower could provide a serious boost to the Tennessee defense, which had several problem areas in 2016.
Titans GM Jon Robinson, of course, knows Hightower because he was a part of the Patriots front office when New England drafted him five years ago.