Can the Patriots keep all three of their stud linebackers for the long haul?

Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are all due for new contracts after the 2016 season. With the way they've all been performing over the last couple of seasons, they're all going to be looking for a nice pay day, and who could blame them?

They're all young, insane athletes. Jones leads the league in sacks with 9.5, Hightower is essentially the quarterback of the defense, a dynamic run stopper and pass rusher, and Collins is the overall best player on the defense.

So how can the Patriots keep all of them? Is that even possible? According to Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald, it can be done.

Here are some of the more important excerpts from his piece, which you can read in full here.

The Patriots can begin working on new deals for both Hightower and Jones now, while they can’t strike an official agreement with Collins until after the completion of his third season. There is also a greater incentive to extend Hightower and Jones because of their high cap hits in 2016, which is a result of the Pats’ decision to exercise their fifth-year options.

Because Belichick has a long-standing affinity for linebackers, they might be inclined to start with Hightower, who has probably been the Pats’ most valuable defensive player this season. Hightower could be in the market for a similar deal to Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David’s five-year, $50.25 million contract, which was struck prior to the 2015 season. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who at 24 years old is younger than both Hightower and Collins, set the market for 4-3 linebackers with a five-year, $61.795 million deal.

Collins is the most freakishly gifted linebacker in the league, and because of his small cap hit in 2016, the Patriots have the leverage with the franchise tag available in 2017. He is the most realistic candidate for the tag that year, though the Pats have to keep money aside for Malcolm Butler (restricted free agent), Brandon LaFell, Rob Ninkovich, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Matthew Slater, Sebastian Vollmer and Sheard as they’re scheduled to hit free agency in 2017.

The Patriots and Jones will study comparable contracts around the league. Jones’ current market might be a five-year extension through 2020 worth $57.5 million, including upward of $23 million guaranteed.

It’s a tall order to ask the Patriots to dole out contracts to Hightower, Collins and Jones, but they’re special players who transformed the defense and there’s no need to mess around with Brady closing in on 40 years old. The Pats could structure all three contracts to fit well beneath the cap in 2016 and 2017 with increasing base salaries toward their final years.

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