Patriots

Remembering the unusual circumstances surrounding Butler's RFA visit to New Orleans

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Remembering the unusual circumstances surrounding Butler's RFA visit to New Orleans

FOXBORO -- Back in March, the Saints were interested enough in Malcolm Butler to bring him in for a visit as a restricted free agent. But they were not interested enough in him to sign him to an offer sheet, relinquishing their No. 11 overall pick in the draft in the process. 

If Butler was going to New Orleans, then, it was going to be via trade. But Butler wasn't under contract with the Patriots -- he hadn't yet signed his first-round tender worth $3.91 million -- so it was against league rules for the Saints and Patriots to actually discuss a trade involving Butler. 

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It was a bit of an unusual scenario. 

You had the Saints hosting a restricted free agent with no intention of signing him to an offer sheet. You had a player looking for a new contract with no leverage. You had a team interested in making a trade that couldn't legally discuss the possibility of a trade until the player signed his restricted free-agent tender.

The Saints simply used Butler's status as a restricted free agent to meet with him, "put him on the board, find out how much football he knows" in case a trade could be hammered out later, Sean Payton indicated later

On Wednesday, during a conference call with Patriots reporters, Payton reflected back on that visit with Butler. 

"It’s a short visit and you try to get as much background as you can on a player, get an idea of their personality and how they fit in, what kind of teammate they’d be and just try to spend as much time as you can getting to know the player and how he learns," Payton said. "Regionally, his family is from down around this area and there were a few things that we had a chance to visit about, aside from football. But I think mainly it’s trying to get an idea of what kind of teammate the player is and what are his strengths and weaknesses, just from a mental standpoint."

Butler did eventually sign his tender with the Patriots, of course, and trade talks may have occurred soon thereafter. But it wasn't long before the Saints were able to pick up a younger, more cost-effective corner option in the draft.

They used their No. 11 overall choice to select Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, who many thought would be drafted sooner. If he had been, perhaps the Saints would have been motivated to deal for Butler. But Lattimore slipped, and suddenly the need for another No. 1 corner in New Orleans became obsolete. 

Lattimore started at right corner for the Saints on Monday night and he played in 61 of a possible 65 snaps. 

"You never know for sure," Payton said when asked if it seemed like his team might get a deal done with Butler. "You kind of do your homework, just like I’m sure Bill [Belichick] does, and then you communicate and kind of go from there and that’s really it. I think that both teams are trying to help themselves and look closely at the options and we ended up with just the one trade."

That was the Brandin Cooks trade, which sent the Patriots No. 32 overall pick to New Orleans. 

Had the draft fallen differently, had the Saints been left without a cornerback option at No. 11, who knows what would have happened to Butler? Or to that No. 32 overall pick, which the Saints kept and turned into starting left tackle Ryan Ramcyzk?

As was the case with the Cooks trade, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the two teams involved might be disappointed with the outcome. The Saints ended up with cornerstone pieces in the draft, addressing two positions of need. The Patriots, meanwhile, got a No. 1-caliber corner for one season at the low, low price of $3.91 million. 

Not a bad deal for either side. 

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

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25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.