PHOENIX -- Sean Payton was as clear as the desert sky in springtime: The Saints won't be signing Malcolm Butler to an offer sheet and relinquishing their No. 11 overall selection to the Patriots.
New Orleans has significant interest in Butler, who visited the team's facilities earlier this month, but giving up a draft choice in the top half of the first round would be too much to give up in order to get the 27-year-old corner in return.
Because Butler is a restricted free agent who has been given a first-round tender by New England, any offer sheet he signs would require his new team to provide its first-round draft pick to the Patriots.
"We had a chance to visit with him," Payton said during the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. "Currently, my understanding, he hasn't signed his tender and so it's just that. We can sign him to an offer sheet, but I don't think we're gonna do that and give up the 11th pick. In fact I know we're not going to do that. It is what it is right now."
The implication, then, is that if the Saints are going to acquire Butler, it would be via trade. But because Butler hasn't signed his tender with the Patriots and is not on the roster, Bill Belichick and his front office can't engage in trade talks with other clubs concerning the hero of Super Bowl XLIX.
"Yeah," Payton said. "That would just be speculation though . . . Obviously we can't have any discussions with New England because New England hasn't signed the player."
Butler has the ability to hear from other clubs and sign an offer sheet until April 21. After that, if he hasn't signed an offer sheet, he'll be left with little choice other than to sign his $3.91 million tender with the Patriots. If he doesn't sign his tender by mid-June, the Patriots could cut his 2017 salary to less than $1 million.
If Butler signs his tender, the Patriots will find themselves in a win-win situation. Either they'll have a top-tier corner play for them at an incredibly affordable rate, or they'll have the ability to trade Butler if they find a deal worth executing.
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Though the Saints may be unwilling to part with No. 11 overall, Payton did not say he was resigned to making a pick at No. 32 overall with the pick they received from the Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade. The Saints have five draft selections in the top 103 this year, giving them the flexibility to either use their picks or part with them in a trade that makes sense.
Payton acknowledged that he had a good meeting with Butler. The trip to New Orleans has been Butler's only reported visit at this time.
"For us it was a chance to meet him," Payton said, "put him on the board, find out how much football he knows. He's from Mississippi. I think it was a good step . . . He's a guy we thought enough of in this process. We'll see, though. I think it might take a bit of time."