The Patriots' handling of Hightower is reminiscent of their approach to Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty's free agency two years ago. Rather than insult Hightower or McCourty with a lowball offer, the front office is content to allow the prospective free agent to determine his value on the open market.
Once the market value is established, the Pats make a competitive offer and rely upon their status as annual Super Bowl favorites to tip the scales in their favor. When the situation is approached with mutual respect, it's a win for the organization as well as the player.
While Tom Brady, James White and Malcolm Butler have been showered with deserved praise for their defining moments in Super Bowls XLIX and LI, Hightower came through with game-changing plays in both championships. He's not just a defensive leader and sure tackler, but also Kuechly's primary competition as the best blitzing inside linebacker in football.
If you're keeping score at home, the Patriots have added physical cornerback Stephon Gilmore, dynamic wideout Brandin Cooks, three-down tight end Dwayne Allen, versatile running back Rex Burkhead and run-stuffing defensive end Lawrence Guy while re-signing Hightower, behemoth defensive tackle Alan Branch and nickel safety Duron Harmon.
As if that's not impressive enough, they will also have the services of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the postseason following December back surgery.
Belichick's current roster is significantly stronger than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy a month ago.