Dont'a Hightower set to make his free agency decision

The best free agent remaining on the board is close to making his decision.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower likely will decide between the Jets and Patriots on Wednesday, with the strong likelihood being that he chooses to return to New England, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

In addition, a source familiar with the negotiations told NFL Network's Michael Silver that the Jets have been out of the market for Hightower after he left the team facility following a visit earlier this week.

NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala added that Pittsburgh is likely out of the Hightower sweepstakes after intense -- and pricey -- negotiations with the player's representatives.

Aside from the intrigue driven by Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles' name recognition or the ongoing Tony Romo saga, Hightower's destination will be one of the most important moves of the free agency period. A versatile linebacker, the former first-round pick is essential to unlocking coach Bill Belichick's complex defense. He has logged some of the most important plays in recent franchise history -- especially in the Super Bowl.

Over the past five seasons, the 27-year-old registered 17 sacks, 251 solo tackles, 13 pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles. With New England shifting fronts almost at will, Hightower's presence is important enough that Belichick did not simply let him fly the coop like he has other free agents.

The decision could have a ripple effect throughout the AFC East given how aggressive the Jets were at trying to pry away the Patriots linebacker. The Jets are desperate for help across their defense and went all-in on Hightower amid an otherwise quiet offseason.

UPDATE: Hightower has agreed to a four-year, $43.5 million deal to remain with the Patriots, his representation told Rapoport.

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