Patriots

Bedard: Decision time on Dont’a Hightower and 5 other contracts on the chopping block

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(Adam Richins for BSJ)

The Patriots haven't had to make a decision on the future of Dont'a Hightower up until this point.

But they do today Sunday.

Hightower, the team's 25th overall pick in 2012, has a clause in his contract that calls for $2 million of his $7 million base salary for this season to become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. That's Sunday.

If you wanted to recoup $5.45 million in cap space right now (or an additional $2 million if he's designated a June 1 cut — but you can't get any of that $8.445 million space until then if you do that) then Hightower would need to be released today.

If not, Hightower and his entire $10.945 million cap hit for this season (fifth-highest on the team) stays on the books.

As most know by now (because you read about it at BSJ first), the Patriots' cap crunch that started last season has continued into the new league year. It's why they've been discount shopping on the free-agent market to this point.

The biggest culprit? The Patriots led the NFL last season in contracts of at least $1 million with 37. The NFL average is 28.5. Some will look at that and say the Patriots have the largest middle class in the league. Others (like me) will say it has been out of necessity, not a choice, because they have drafted poorly (the Patriots have just two returning starters, Shaq Mason and Sony Michel, 25 years or younger; they had seven after winning the '14 Super Bowl).

Should Hightower be released to help create more cap space? Well, that's obviously a tough question. Let's debate that and examine a few other contracts that deserve to scrutinized as the Patriots encounter a new financial reality that will only change when the next wave of talent replaces the old.