NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

Dont'a Hightower is calling it a career. After sitting out of the 2022 season, the New England Patriots linebacker officially announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday after playing nine seasons in the league. 

"Today, I am officially retiring from the NFL," Hightower wrote in a post published in The Players' Tribune. "I know these announcements always feel bittersweet, but I can't think of a better story than the one I wrote in New England. A decade, three Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls, and the birth of my son — all playing for one franchise. How many guys have a story like that? So this is a happy day for me, and I just wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate you embracing a Southern kid from Lewisburg, Tennessee." 

Hightower was a first-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2012 out of Alabama and immediately became one of the pillars of the second leg of New England's dynasty under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. He was not only a three-time Super Bowl champion but played a critical role in each of those championship victories. 

Arguably one of the more underrated plays in club history is Hightower's goal-line tackle of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch during Super Bowl XLIX. Hightower made that stop and prevented Lynch from scoring, and Malcolm Butler made his infamous interception on the next play. 

"When I saw Seattle line up in that I-form, I knew Beast Mode was getting it, and I knew they'd been gashing us with that strong-side lead all game," Hightower recalled in his retirement post. "I knew he was going to walk through a huge hole if I didn't take a risk. It's funny how things come full circle, because when I was at Alabama, Kirby Smart used to always tell us, 'Never ever go behind a block unless you're sure you're going to make a play.' Well, I wasn't sure. But I figured we had nothing to lose. So I ripped up under Okung and shot my shot. All I saw was Marshawn's two legs churning, and I just prayed to God that I could clip him up or something. I reached out ... and you already know what happened next."

Hightower also had a key strip-sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during New England's epic 25-point comeback during Super Bowl LI. He also had a team-high two sacks against Jared Goff in the Patriots' win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, making him one of the most clutch players in the franchise's history. 

The two-time Pro Bowler totaled 569 tackles over the course of his regular season career, 67 quarterback hits, 27 sacks, and two forced fumbles. In the postseason, he added 81 more tackles and three sacks. Hightower is also a member of the Patriots All-2010s Team and Patriots All-Dynasty Team