The NFL season hasn't started yet, but the New England Patriots need to be ready for the 2017 NFL offseason. After the 2016-17 season, three key Patriots will be free agents. Super Bowl hero and Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler, as well as star linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are scheduled to be free agents after the season, and the Patriots need to pay them or regret losing them.
Butler rose from undrafted free agent to Super Bowl hero in a matter of seconds, and has since developed into the number one corner to Patriots needed. Jamie Collins was a second round pick, and is now one of the most versatile and athletic linebackers in the league. Hightower was a first round pick out of Alabama, and has evolved into one the best pass-rushing linebackers in the NFL. All three of these Patriots are extremely important to the Patriots success, and that is why they need to be paid like the stars that they are.
Hurns was made the 10th highest earning wide receiver after catching 64 passes for 1031 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Him and fellow Jaguar Allen Robinson have developed into a very formidable wide receiver duo.
Smith, the centerpiece of the Vikings defense, is now the highest-paid safety in the league in terms of average annual salary. Smith was a first round pick out of Notre Dame.
The Patriots are going to have to shell out a lot of money to keep the three stars in New England, but owner Robert Kraft is more than willing to do that. The Patriots have never shied away from big contracts. Players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Devin McCourty were all given contract extensions that made them among the highest-paid players at their respective positions. Now, it's time for a new wave of young stars to get paid.
The Patriots should understand right now that they are going to have to give $40+ million to each of the three stars.
Jamie Collins has perhaps the highest upside of the three players, and he is going to get a hefty contract. Collins could fetch a contract somewhere between Smith's and fellow linebacker Clay Matthews, who signed a 5 year, $66 million deal in 2013.
Dont'a Hightower combines his immense on-the-field production with his leadership ability. After Jerod Mayo's injuries forced him off the field, it was Hightower who took over the microphone duties on defense. Hightower has leverage on the Patriots in this situation, and could command a contract north of linebacker Luke Kuechly's. Kuechly signed a 5 year, $61 million deal last September.
Winning is more important than anything to the New England Patriots, but winning is expensive. Robert Kraft is going to have to dig deep into his pockets to keep these three players in the Patriots' red, white, and blue.