2017 NFL free agency, could the free-spending Cleveland Browns be in the running for inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower? Hightower, a member of the newly-crowned Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, is one of the middle-tier free agents currently left on the open market. Currently linked to re-signing with the Pats, division rivals such as the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and the upstart Tennessee Titans, per CBSSports.com Jason La Canfora, one dark horse to watch for could be the Browns. After three days of free agency, the 1-15 Browns have spent and estimated $50 million-plus in salary cap space in signing WR Kenny Britt (four years, $32.5 million), J.C. Tretter (three years, $16.75 million) and Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60 million, $31.5 million guaranteed) to free agent contracts and extending All Pro and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio to a four-year $47.5 million extension. While not the premier or destined glamour spot of free agents, Cleveland has the most money in free agency, a multitude of picks in the next two drafts and a promising future thanks to having one of the NFL’s most respected head coaches in Hue Jackson. If the Browns are able to outbid the forementioned teams above for the former 27-year-old, 6’3 265-pound Alabama star, he’d reunite with former teammate and current Browns outside linebacker Jamie Collins—who re-upped with a four-year $50 million contract extension—would give Cleveland one of the most promising linebacker units in the NFL. Projected to take Myles Garrett with the top overall pick and address defense throughout the draft, Hightower would be one of the proverbial crown jewels in Cleveland’s revamped defense led by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Picture an aggressive sack-minded defense with Garrett on one end with emerging second-year edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah on the other with Danny Shelton and Jamie Meder clogging the middle and Hightower and Collins cleaning up the middle and pressuring QB’s. Do I have your attention now? Because from the sounds of things, Cleveland already has, and hopefully Hightower has too.
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) knocks a pass out of the hands of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports