by: Ryan Hannable on Wed, 03/15/2017 - 10:18pm

Dont'a Hightower re-signed with the Patriots on Wednesday. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)Everyone in the football world had this offseason circled for the Patriots as they were going to have Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins all become unrestricted free agents.

There was no chance the team could re-sign all three of them, so would Bill Belichick extend one early before they even got to free agency? Would he be able to keep two of the three? It was actually none of those, but after the Patriots re-signed Hightower on Wednesday, it can be said Belichick handled the situation perfectly.

All three have signed new contracts with their respective teams, and one could make the argument the Patriots ultimately got the best player for the best price.

New England officially re-signed Hightower to a four-year, $42 million deal with $19 million guaranteed, which is a steal and a half compared to the other two players. After being franchised recently by the Cardinals, Jones agreed to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million with an insane $53 million guaranteed, and then Collins signed an extension with the Browns after half a season for four years, $50 million and $26 guaranteed.

Jones has had at least 11 sacks in three of his last four seasons, but the biggest knock on him is he typically fades as the year goes on. The majority of his production comes early in the year and rarely does he produce in big games. Collins is a heck of an athlete, but inconsistent at times, and some called him a “freelancer” when he was traded in the middle of this past season. While Hightower may not have the stats like the other two, he was the most important player on the Patriots defense last season. According to NFL Network research, with the linebacker on the field in 2016 the Patriots allowed an average of 4.9 yards per play, but 5.8 yards per play when he wasn’t on the field. 

Also, Hightower’s leadership skills are invaluable to the success of the team.

"You know when he's talking there is a reason and he has everyone's attention when he's talking," safety Duron Harmon said the week of the Super Bowl. "Everyone knows not only does he mean well, usually whenever he's talking it is for a reason and everyone is listening."

Harmon added: "The thing about Dont'a, he's a leader by action. He really doesn't talk too much, but his actions lead. Just think about the Cincinnati game. When we needed a stop he got the safety. Just his actions lead. He will make a stop in the running game. He will hit somebody. If you look at any point in a game when it's not going our way, Dont'a is going to make a play to keep it going."

Not only did Belichick keep the best overall player, he got something in return for the other two. The coach was thinking ahead and knew he wouldn’t be able to re-sign all three, so he dealt two of them ahead of time to ensure the Patriots got something in return on their own terms. 

Last offseason with Trey Flowers, Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard already on the roster, the Patriots could do without Jones, so they shipped him to Arizona in exchange for guard Jonathan Cooper and the Cardinals’ second-round pick in last year’s draft. New England then turned that second-round pick into a third and a fourth-round pick where they selected Malcolm Mitchell and Joe Thuney. Not a bad exchange at all.

The Collins trade came out of no where, as the Patriots dealt him to Cleveland in late October, but they got a third-round compensatory pick from the Browns for this year’s draft. If the Patriots held on to him and then didn’t re-sign him, the compensatory pick would have been for 2018 and there’s no guarantee it would have been a third-rounder.

Belichick likely knew how things would play out and the organization wouldn’t be able to afford to keep Jones and Collins, as well as Hightower, and opted to part ways with the other two a year early to have a say in what the return would be, not rely on just compensatory picks in 2018.

It also should be noted how well Belichick handled the Hightower negotiations. He could have panicked when Hightower set up visits with the Steelers and Jets, and maybe overpaid so he didn’t make them, but he remained calm and knew he had the trust of Hightower to return to him before deciding. That was when the Patriots upped their offer, per CSN’s Mike Giardi, and he agreed to return.

Once again, Belichick showed how the Patriots have been so successful over the years and how it’s more than him as a coach. It’s about time he gets credit as a GM.