Dont'a Hightower
Dont’a Hightower is expected to test the free agent waters after the Patriots decided to not use the franchise tag. (Mike Roemer/AP)

It appears that Dont’a Hightower is not a lock to return to New England. In fact, it appears he may have played his last game as a member of the Patriots. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that the team will not use the franchise tag on their star linebacker.

The franchise tag would have cost the team $14.7 million for this upcoming season. That doesn’t mean the Patriots haven’t ruled out using the transition tag which could give them the right to match any potential offer this offseason. The Patriots will have plenty of cap space this offseason so they could theoretically afford to retain him. New England has until March 7th to try to work out a long-term deal with their inside linebacker.

Pro Football Focus graded him as the 12th best linebacker in 2016. Over the course of 13 games, he recorded 65 tackles and 2.5 sacks this past season.

Martellus Bennett is another potential impending free agent for New England this offseason. The team is expected to let him walk as well if he gets a mega deal.