The New York Jets “lost” again, as hotly pursued free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower recently elected to re-sign with the New England Patriots. In the bizarre world of Jets football, however, sometimes losing is actually winning.
In the midst of an offseason where the New York Jets purged almost half their roster, they finally appeared poised to actually add an impact player.
Multiple reports surfaced linking the Jets to free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is young (27) and coming off a Pro Bowl season. Many Jets fans and even some of my fellow writers were understandably excited at the prospect of the team signing Hightower.
Then the stagecoach turned back into a pumpkin.
Patriots are giving LB Dont'a Hightower a 4-year, $43.5M deal that includes $19M guaranteed, per @_sportstrust.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2017
The rich continue to get richer, as the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots were able to re-sign Hightower. The Jets lose again, and their fan base could not even have the satisfaction of watching their team steal a star player from their rivals.
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Did the Jets really lose, though, or were they saved from making a horrible mistake?
Hightower is a talented player, but he is hardly a superstar. In five seasons, he has yet to post a single year where he started all his team’s games. He only has one Pro Bowl appearance. The most sacks he ever had in a season were six, and that occurred in 2014. Over his entire career, Hightower has forced only two fumbles and has yet to record a single interception.
There are plenty of talented defensive players who don’t put up flashy stats. However, if a team is going to give an NFL player a massive payday they should be sure that the player will have a massive impact on the field.
The Patriots will be paying Hightower an average salary of almost $11M per year. This was Hightower’s hometown discount price, and the Jets would have had to offer him significantly more if they wanted a realistic chance of signing him.
Considering the fact that superstar and perennial Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly is making less than $13M this upcoming season (courtesy of Spotrac), it becomes abundantly clear that the Jets would not have received fair market value on a Hightower contract.
Then there’s the matter of the salary cap.
#Jets have $22.7 million in cap space, per NFLPA records. That doesn't include the Ben Ijalana contract.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) March 15, 2017
Even after cutting multiple players, the Jets are still relatively low on cap space. Signing Hightower would have easily eaten up at least half of their remaining cap space.
For a rebuilding team that has more roster holes than Swiss cheese, that math just doesn’t add up. Jets fans are used to disappointment. But just this once, they can take solace in the knowledge that their team made the right decision.