Bill Belichick dodges question about a potential return for Dont’a Hightower

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The New England Patriots have cleared the linebacker room over the course of the 2022 offseason. The Patriots started by cutting linebacker Kyle Van Noy to free up salary cap space. New England proceeded to trade for linebacker Mack Wilson and elect not to pursue Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins, the two free agents from the Patriots.

So they’ll look to Wilson, Josh Uche, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Cameron McGrone and Raekwon McMillan, among others. It’s apparently a youth movement.

During a press conference, Belichick was asked whether he thought Uche might be able to play a role similar to that of Hightower. Belichick didn’t see it and cautioned against comparing anyone to Hightower.

“We’re talking about one of the best linebackers that’s ever played here,” Belichick said on Tuesday during a press conference.

So might the Patriots bring back Hightower?

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

OK then.

In the meantime, Hightower has spent the offseason mulling whether he wants to return to the NFL, according to The Athletic. Perhaps he has found the contract offers underwhelming and isn’t sure he wants to endure the beating. Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to return to the NFL.

Whatever the reason, Belichick clearly thinks highly of the linebacker. It’s just that he wouldn’t commit to leaving the door open for a 32-year-old who might just be in decline. The Patriots have done something similar in the past, where they kept around Jerod Mayo for an extra year, even when he wasn’t playing much. But Mayo acted as a players-coach. Hightower may want to either play — or retire.

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