NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Who knows how close the Jets actually were?
Conflicting reports surfaced Wednesday afternoon about the future of Dont’a Hightower, the top linebacker available in free agency. Some NFL insiders named the Jets as serious players in the race, while others said New York’s interest disappeared after the 27-year-old defensive stalwart left Florham Park on Monday without a contract.
All of it ended up being moot, however, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter eventually reported that Hightower was set to return to the New England Patriots, the team he helped win two Super Bowl championships, including this past season. Schefter said Hightower will receive a four-year, $43.5 million contract, with $19 million guaranteed.
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that the Jets offered Hightower a long-term deal with $11 million a year with $22 million guaranteed, but pulled the offer when he left the facility.
In addition to the Jets, Hightower visited the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Out of fear of being used in order to drive up the price on the Patriots, the Steelers, too, reportedly told the veteran linebacker if he left Pittsburgh without signing a contract, the offer would be off the table, the NFL Network reported Tuesday night.
The Jets, who are in the midst of a total rebuild, were thought to be serious about slotting Hightower into the linebacking corps next to second-year player Darron Lee, who had his moments as a rookie during New York’s 5-11 campaign in 2016. There was also the belief that the Jets would have released 33-year-old linebacker David Harris, their longest-tenured player, if they had signed Hightower.
A former first-round pick out of Alabama in 2012, Hightower can play multiple positions, as he has served as both a stand-up pass rusher and an in-the-box linebacker that can stop the run.
Despite having money to spend, the Jets have been relatively quiet so far in free agency, re-signing a few of their own players before reaching deals with left tackle Kelvin Beachum and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. New York is expected to sign a veteran quarterback at some point as well. Top candidates reportedly include Jay Cutler, Chase Daniel and Josh McCown.
On the trade front, the Jets are reportedly interested in Denver’s Trevor Siemian, Cleveland’s Brock Osweiler and Cincinnati’s A.J. McCarron, among others.