Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported Wednesday that Hightower had been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers due to a shoulder injury suffered during New England's Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots defense will need to play the rest of 2017 without their defensive captain.
Former Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower is out for the season with a torn pectoral, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The veteran was the biggest playmaker in the front seven, but his importance went beyond production.More news: NFL Owner Sparks Fury With Disgraceful Comment Regarding Anthem Protests
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The Patriots are 5-2. But after giving up 444 total yards to the Carolina Panthers in 33-30 loss on October 1, New England has yielded fewer yards with each game in running off three victories with Hightower back in the middle of the defense. Kyle Van Noy had mostly taken his place as the middle linebacker and primary communicator on the field, so that's not likely to change. No one player can duplicate Hightower's skill set, but multiple guys on the roster - David Harris, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin (eligible to return from IR in Week 10), and Cassius Marsh - can fill in.
Bill Belichick could also look to upgrade his linebacking corps with a trade before Tuesday's deadline.
New England signed Hightower to a four-year, $35 million deal on March 15, though his lower 2017 base salary ($1,250,000) and higher per-game earnings reflected the team's concern.