Dont'a Hightower

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is a free agent and his status with the Patriots, or any other team, is unknown. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick praised Hightower on Tuesday, but would not talk about his future with the team. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

As teams take the field for OTAs this offseason, veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned, with no indication about his NFL future.

Could the 32-year-old return to the New England Patriots for one more contract? Bill Belichick gave no clear indication. However, the Patriots did have some high praise.

On Tuesday, Belichick was asked about young linebackers like Josh Uche playing multiple positions on the defense similar to the way Hightower had early in his career. Belichick pumped the brakes on that sort of comparison.

“I think it’s a stretch to compare most anybody to Hightower. Talking about one of the best linebackers that’s ever played here,” Belichick said.

Belichick mentioning Hightower seemed as good a time as any to inquire about the linebacker’s status. The Patriots appear to be shifting to a youth movement at the position. However, the veteran remains available on the market.

As a follow-up, a reporter asked Belichick whether they’d welcome him back.


“We’ll just talk about the players that are on the team right now,” Belichick said.

We could wait a bit longer to see what the future holds for Hightower. Earlier this offseason, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported that the veteran will likely wait until later in the offseason to decide his future.

“Hightower is still figuring out what he wants to do,” Howe tweeted. “If he wants to keep playing, he doesn’t need spring ball anyway. Could take a while longer.”

Hightower is a two-time Pro Bowler and was a vital part of the Patriots’ defense for multiple Super Bowl runs. Hightower has played all nine of his NFL seasons with New England, but has had issues with injuries over the latter part of his career. Hightower sat out the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic before returning in 2021.

THERE WAS APPARENTLY a limit to how much the Patriots were going to let Josh McDaniels poach assistant coaches from his old team.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Patriots blocked tight ends coach Nick Caley from talking to the Los Vegas Raiders this offseason. This is noteworthy considering the exodus of coaching talent that followed McDaniels to Las Vegas.


When the former Patriots’ offensive coordinator was hired as head coach of the Raiders, McDaniels took wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo and quality control/quarterback coach Bo Hardegree with him.

It’s telling that the Patriots reportedly didn’t want Caley caught up in the mix of assistants following McDaniels to Vegas and could be an indication that the team thinks highly of him.

Caley popped on NFL radars last season when he was named a coach to watch across the league by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The report has led to speculation that the Patriots have big plans for the coach down the road, given his current role coaching a position that’s involving in the passing game and the running game.

The Patriots, for their part, have stayed mum on Caley’s long-term future on the coaching staff – which shouldn’t come as a surprise under Belichick.

“Honestly, I try not to get caught up in a lot of those things,” Caley said last year when asked about his stock as a coach. “Obviously, I’ve got aspirations professionally to grow, like a lot of guys, but to be honest with you, I’ve always stuck to the recipe of just trying to focus on the job that I have, be where my feet are. That’s worked for me. Try to be the best tight ends coach, honestly, that I can here, and that’s what my focus has been on.”

Caley remains a name to watch on a Patriots offensive coaching staff that remains nebulous heading into the 2022 NFL season. The team has yet to name an offensive coordinator, with assistants Joe Judge and Matt Patricia expected to play big roles on offense. Caley could wind up playing a large role as well. However, we won’t know for sure until we get into the season.


NFL PROSPECTS will be criticized for just about anything, but the predraft knock on Tyquan Thornton entered bizarre territory.

Skinny wrists.

“Rail thin with minimal bulk and the skinniest wrists in the draft (61/8 inches),” The Athletic’s Draft guru Dane Brugler wrote. “Tiny hands (81/4 inches) won’t create much confidence when it comes to winning 50-50 balls in the NFL.”

After an OTA on Tuesday afternoon, the second-round pick had heard the critique, and said the size of his wrists had never hindered him in a game of football before.

“Skinny wrists? I mean, what are you using your wrists for?” Thornton asked. “That was new to me.”

Thornton is trying to get stronger in New England – at the NFL Combine he measured 6-foot-2, 181 pounds – but won’t be changing his body type. He’s been wiry his entire life and believes that’s just how he’s put together.

“This is my body type. This is my frame,” Thornton said. “I don’t see myself getting 225 pounds. I’ve been thin all my life. But just getting stronger in the weight room. Building more muscles so I can have that fast twitch.”

One measurement at the combine that did impress? Thornton ran a blazing 4.28 40-yard dash. There are a lot of Patriots who believe they’re fast, but none have challenged the rookie just yet.

“A lot of guys have asked to race (before)… but not after that 4.2,” Thornton smirked.

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