The New England Patriots’ defense is losing perhaps the one player it could least afford to lose: linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
A first-round pick out of Alabama in 2012 and a Pro Bowler last year, Hightower is a smart, versatile playmaker for New England. He’s their communicator in the middle of the field, can stop the run and rush the passer.
Losing him is a big loss for a defense that was already working through some deficiencies.
Hightower suffered a knee injury in the Patriots’ season opener against Kansas City, missing Weeks 2 and 3; he returned against Carolina in Week 4.
The 27-year old was a hero in each of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl wins, stuffing Marshawn Lynch near the goal line late in Super Bowl XLIX, and strip-sacking Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI.