The Patriots made a choice during the 2016 season with their two star linebackers — Donta Hightower was part of the team’s future, and Jamie Collins wasn’t.
The team’s trade of Collins to the Browns in Week 9 shocked most fans and media, but in looking at the contracts signed by Collins and Hightower this offseason, the decision to keep Hightower over Collins doesn’t seem so shocking.
Collins signed a four-year, $50 million extension with the Browns in January that for all intents and purposes is a two-year deal that guarantees him $26.4 million and could be worth as much as $27 million if Collins attends offseason workouts and plays in all 16 games in 2018.
Hightower, who re-signed with the Patriots on Wednesday, signed a more modest deal with the Patriots that has more protections for the team. Originally reported as a four-year, $43.5 million deal with $19 million guaranteed, the contract is really for $35.5 million with $17 million fully guaranteed over two years at signing, plus $2 million guaranteed for injury only and another $8 million available in incentives ($2 million per season).
Hightower will make anywhere between $17 million and $22.75 million over the first two years, based on how many games he plays and whether he earns Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors. Hightower has missed 13 games due to injury in his five-year career — though he has played in at least 12 game every season — and the Patriots protected themselves with $875,000 in per-game roster bonuses each season.
It’s a nice deal for Hightower, but falls short of what Collins will make in Cleveland. The final two years of Hightower’s deal are pay-as-you-go, and he could be looking at a renegotiation before the 2019 season.
A full breakdown Hightower’s deal
Signing bonus: $10 million
2017: $1.25 million (fully guaranteed)
2018: $5.75 million (fully guaranteed)
2019: $7 million ($2 million guaranteed for injury only, becomes fully guaranteed if on the roster the fifth day of the 2019 league year)
2020: $8 million
Roster bonus: $875,000 per season ($54,687.50 per game active)
Incentives (based on playing time): Up to $2 million each season based on Pro Bowl and first-team All Pro
Salary cap numbers:
2017: $4.46 million
2018: $8.95 million
2019: $10.21 million
2020: $11.21 million
2017: $12.125 million
2018: $18.75 million
2019: $26.625 million
2020: $35.5 million
Follow Ben Volin on Twitter @BenVolin.