While the New England Patriots losing a league-leading eight players to opt outs prior to the start of training camp last year played a huge role in their 2020 shortcomings, it almost served as a blessing in disguise, as it helped shed a damning light on their multitude of roster deficiencies.
It goes without saying that getting those players back — on top of making a few marquee additions via trades and free agency this offseason– will serve as a huge boost for their chances to get back into the playoffs next year.
However, as of a few weeks ago there was growing speculation that Dont’a Hightower was considering retirement. Given how poorly the Patriots did in terms of overcoming his absence at the linebacker position in 2020, that would’ve been the worst-case scenario.
Well, in a long overdue dose of good news for fans, longtime captain Devin McCourty provided a positive update on Hightower’s status for next season, noting during a recent podcast interview with Tom Curran of the Boston Globe that he expects all opt outs to report back to the team this offseason.
Dont’a Hightower is apparently planning to return to the Patriots for 2021
Did you hear that? That was the entirety of Foxborough breaking the sound barrier celebrating this news. It’s worth noting that these comments don’t officially confirm Hightower’s return, but you have think McCourty, given his relationship with the former first-round pick (they’ve been teammates for nine seasons), is as well-informed on this situation as anybody.
At face value, Hightower’s stats wouldn’t suggest that he’s the most important piece on the Patriots’ defense. For context, he posted 71 tackles (eight for loss), 5.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, four passes defended and a fumble returned for a touchdown across 15 starts in 2019.
Those numbers are respectable in their own right, but they don’t exactly align with players who are considered irreplaceable to their respective defenses. However, the manner in which the Patriots were pummeled up the middle against the run this past season is really all you need to know about how much they missed Hightower.
From providing clarity on Hightower’s plans for next season, to trying to unite the divided fan base in light of Danny Amendola’s provocative comments about the “Patriot Way,” McCourty really outdid himself in terms of encapsulating why he’s held in such a high regard among fans.
Seriously, is there anything the two-time Pro Bowler can’t do?