Report: Patriots won’t franchise tag Pro Bowl LB Dont’a Hightower

New England Patriots Dont'a Hightower #54 in action against the Atlanta Falcons at Super Bowl 51 on Sunday, February 5, 2017 in Houston, TX. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

The New England Patriots traded Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, thus opening up a boatload of cap space so they could sign Dont’a Hightower this offseason. They’d love to lock him up long-term, and as it turns out, that appears to be the only option for retaining him.

According to ESPN, the Patriots won’t place the franchise tag on Hightower, allowing him to hit free agency March 9.

Of course, the team could still sign him to an extension before the new league year hits, but it won’t have the protection of the franchise tag when free agency begins. This isn’t particularly surprising for a franchise like the Patriots, considering how infrequently they’ve used the tag in the past.

Hightower has been a stud for New England for years, culminating in his Super Bowl performance where he stripped Matt Ryan of the ball on a pivotal second-half play. Last season, he recorded 65 tackles and one forced fumble as the team’s starting middle linebacker.

Durability has been an issue – he’s played all 16 games just once in his career – but that shouldn’t deter the Patriots from signing him long-term.