PITTSBURGH (AP) — Coveted free agent linebacker Dont'a Hightower's tour hit Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but Hightower left the team's facility without signing a deal.
The team announced it hosted him after he spent Monday getting wooed by the New York Jets. Hightower spent most of the day at the team's headquarters, but left early in the evening without a deal imminent.
Hightower has helped the New England Patriots win a pair of Super Bowls in his five seasons with the team and is probably the best inside linebacker on the open market. The Steelers are searching for a replacement for veteran Lawrence Timmons, who signed with Miami last week after spending a productive decade with Pittsburgh.
Hightower has 372 tackles and 17 sacks since New England selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft. He provided one of the signature moments during New England's furious second-half rally against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, forcing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's fumble in the fourth quarter, helping swing the momentum to the Patriots for good on their way to a comeback 34-28 overtime victory.
The Patriots are still interested in bringing back Hightower and they have more money to spend than the Steelers. New England is more than $33 million under the cap, while the Steelers have about $18 million to spend after signing wide receiver Antonio Brown to a new five-year contract and applying the franchise tag to star running back Le'Veon Bell.
Pittsburgh declined to splurge on the 30-year-old Timmons, who signed a two-year deal with the Dolphins that will play him around $12 million. Hightower turned 27 on Sunday. Hightower would likely command a far higher price tag than Timmons and the Steelers have longtime reserve Vince Williams at the ready to take over for Timmons if the team doesn't make a splash in free agency.
Pittsburgh rarely gets into a bidding war for free agents. The team's two highest-profile acquisitions in recent years have been safety Mike Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal in 2014, and tight end Ladarius Green, who played sporadically in 2016 due to injuries after agreeing to a four-year, $20 million contract.
The Steelers won the AFC North reached the AFC championship game, but were outclassed in a lopsided loss to Hightower and the Patriots. Improving the pass rush and finding depth at cornerback are considered the top priorities.
Pittsburgh also welcomed free agent cornerback Davon House on Tuesday, but House instead opted to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
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