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These Stats Prove Dont'a Hightower's Importance To The Patriots Defense

Report: Free Agent Hightower To Decide Between Pats, Steelers And Jets

Ultimately, Hightower chose to remain with his Super Bowl winning teammates in New England.

Earlier this week, the two-time Super Bowl champion visited AFC rival New York Jets, but left the meeting without a deal.

The 4-year, $43.5 million contract Hightower signed yesterday, elevates him in the ranks of the top-paid players at his position. Carolina's Luke Kuechly remains the highest at $12.4 million per season.

It is believed that he is seeking a contract that would pay in excess of $10 million per season.

With Hightower back in the fold, New England keeps its team captain, defensive signal caller and - simply - its best linebacker. The NFL Media Research Group tweeted one such stat on Wednesday, determining that the Patriots defense allowed one more yard per play without Hightower on the field in 2016.

Having Hightower back will once again make the Patriots one of the best defenses in the National Football League in 2017. In his five seasons, he has played in 67 games and has a combined total of 372 tackles.

Despite the Patriots not using the franchise tag on Hightower, they were still able to convince him to come back.

Hightower wanted to return, and the Patriots reciprocated that feeling. The 27-year-old linebacker serves as the centerpiece of their defense, and he just earned his first Pro Bowl berth.

Another thing signing Hightower would do would give them a legitimate player to replace David Harris. He tackled Seattle's Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line, and Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson on the next play to help seal the Patriots' 28-24 win. Hightower has 17.0 regular-season sacks for his career. The Patriots, for their sit-and-wait approach, would have found it hard to replace Hightower had he signed elsewhere.

Losing Hightower would likely elevate Kyle Van Noy into a starting role. They have been uncharacteristically aggressive over the past week, signing Stephon Gilmore to a monster deal and making a trade for Brandin Cooks.