The Saints also released veteran guard Mike McGlynn and placed rookie outside linebacker Davis Tull on injured reserve while promoting three players from their practice squad: receiver Seantavius Jones, fullback Toben Opurum and defensive back Don Jones.
Hightower, 29, has not played in the NFL since tearing his ACL in 2011. He attempted to come back with the Washington Redskins in 2012 but later discovered an infection was disrupting his recovery. The Saints are the first team he has been with since.
Hightower, who began his career with the Arizona Cardinals, was always a bit of a long shot to make the Saints’ roster because of New Orleans’ depth at the position (Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller, Khiry Robinson and rookie Marcus Murphy).
Spiller is out for Sunday’s game at Arizona because of a knee injury. But Robinson returned healthy from an unspecified injury this week, which likely made Hightower expendable.
It’s also possible that both Hightower and McGlynn could be back after Week 1. Vested veterans signed after Week 1 don’t have their salaries fully guaranteed for the full season.
Coach Sean Payton spoke highly of Hightower this week for his attributes both on and off the field.
“I thought his training camp was very good. I thought clearly he looked healthy,” Payton said. “As the process wore on, we went from spring to training camp, you begin to know this player more and more. I also think he’s a real good teammate. He has a presence about him that I think benefits all of us, our team.”
McGlynn wasn’t likely to be active on Sunday since he is the Saints’ eighth offensive lineman.
Tull, a fifth-round pick from Chattanooga, suffered a new shoulder injury this past week that was unrelated to the shoulder injury he suffered before the draft, a source confirmed, as first reported by the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Tull had labrum surgery before the draft, but he returned to practice and games midway through training camp and earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Then he suffered a tear in the opposite shoulder and was sidelined from practice all week.
Not only is it a big disappointment for a young player with promise, but it leaves the Saints even thinner at strongside linebacker, where they now only have rookie Hau'oli Kikaha and second-year pro Kasim Edebali on the roster. They could look to add to that mix next week.
The three promoted players will likely be used primarily on special teams if they are active for Sunday’s game. Seantavius Jones likely won’t play a big role on offense, if any, since he is the team’s fifth receiver.