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Steelers had to be the most aggressive team in the Dont’a Hightower sweepstakes

While the Steelers were one of three teams heavily involved in the Dont’a Hightower sweepstakes, they likely had to be more aggressive than even the Jets in-order to land the talented inside linebacker’s services.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever the Steelers are linked to a free-agent, it’s not uncommon for fans to offer pleas such as, “Come to Pittsburgh, (insert player’s name here), you’ll have a chance to win a championship!”

I’m sure similar sentiments are used as selling points by Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and perhaps a buddy of the free-agent who just so happens to play for the Steelers.

“Come play for a great coach.”

“Come play with a franchise quarterback.”

“Come be one of the leaders of an already great locker room.”

“Come on in and play for a championship!”

However, when it came to inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who made an official visit to the Steelers headquarters on Tuesday and stayed for several hours, he already had all of those things during his first five seasons with the Patriots.

Great head coach? Check.

Franchise quarterback? Double-check (Tom Brady, not Aaron Rodgers).

Great leader in an already great locker room? Been there and did that.

Championship? How about two since 2014?

Yes, while the Steelers are a truly great and well-run organization with a tradition of excellence, New England has become the gold-standard for winning silver over the past 16 seasons.

Hightower, who also won two national titles as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, has already achieved more championship success since his late-teens than some cities experience in five decades (I’m looking at you, Cleveland).

Therefore, at the age of 27, it’s likely his priorities may have shifted from championship success to that all-important (and usually most-lucrative) second contract.

The fact Hightower visited with the Jets before he came to Pittsburgh was perhaps all the indication one needs that he was looking to cash in (and rightfully so).

Let’s not forget, Lawrence Timmons, the man Hightower would have replaced in the Steelers lineup, needed a stellar second half of the 2016 season to earn $11 million in guaranteed money from the Dolphins. Otherwise, two months shy of his 31st birthday, he may have been one of those unfortunate NFL veterans forced to languish in free-agency until he either accepted a low-ball offer or simply retired.

In other words, a lot can happen between your late-20s and early-30s in a football-aging sense, so when you have a chance to maximize your earning potential, you do it (even if it’s for a team like the Jets, who hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since the late-60s and hasn’t played a postseason game since the 2010 season).

Some reports suggest New York offered Hightower as much as $12 million a season. That’s a lot of money to pass up. When figures get that high, it’s easy for the casual observer to say, “Oh, what’s one or two million dollars?”

That’s easy, it’s one or two million extra dollars you can put in your coffers.

Whether you believe the reports of the Jets offer or not, fact is, Hightower agreed to re-sign with his old team on Wednesday for four years and $43.5 million.

If those numbers are accurate, that averages out to just under $11 million a season and roughly a million dollars shy of the high-end of what Hightower was reportedly seeking.

Yes, a million or so dollars is a lot of money, but when you have a chance to go back to familiar championship success with all the trappings previously listed, that makes it a lot easier to give a hometown discount.

So, what did the Steelers offer Hightower? If it was less than what New England offered, why did they even bring him in for a visit?

Believe it or not, of the three teams in the Hightower sweepstakes, Pittsburgh was the one dealing from the weakest position.

It’s one thing to take less money to stick with the Patriots, rather than sign with the lowly Jets. It’s quite another to turn down more money with New England (a team you’ve experienced nothing but success with) to sign with the Steelers.

No slick sales pitch was going to bring Hightower to Pittsburgh.

The only thing the Steelers, even with their rich history of championship success, could have shown Dont’a Hightower was lots and lots of money.