Free agent LB Dont'a Hightower has returned to the Patriots, signing a four-year, $43.5 million deal that includes a $19 million signing bonus.
The 27-year-old All-Pro visited the Jets on Monday and the Steelers on Tuesday.
There were reports that New York was among the highest bidders for Hightower's services, reportedly offering him more than $12 million per year.
This was an uphill battle from the start for the Jets, but you can't fault them for trying.
Hightower would've been a terrific player for them, a mainstay in the middle of their defense, and a perfect heir to David Harris. But they had little chance to get him from the start, and they knew they'd have to overpay to convince a top free agent to join their rebuilding effort -- especially when Hightower's other option was the Super Bowl champs.
The Jets apparently realized that quickly. According to a league source they were "out" of the Hightower chase on Monday, when he left their Florham Park, N.J., facility. They knew then that the 27-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker preferred to return to New England. The Steelers - the next team he visited - apparently knew that too. They reportedly told him that if he left their building, their offer would be ripped up. And it was.
Hightower and his agents played this perfectly, though. With the Jets and Steelers out, reports surfaced anyway that the Jets were high bidders. One report said they were offering $12.5 million per year. That wasn't actually true. It was just an attempt to try to get the Patriots to up their offer. According to a league source, the Jets offer was "not close" to even $12 million per year.
So yeah, Hightower was using them - and the Jets seemed to know it. Who knows if he even got an extra dollar out of the Patriots? At $43.5 million over four years with $19 million guaranteed, who really cares? What he got was basically what he wanted all along.
And it doesn't sound like the Jets could have done any more than they did to change his mind - short of throwing a ridiculous contract at a good, but not great player. Any reasonable player would choose the Patriots over the Jets right now if the money was close. There's nothing the Jets can do about that until they finally rebuild.
The Jets knew that too. So all they could do was give it their best shot, then sit back and watch. And in the end, the rich got richer. New England won again.