Malcolm Butler may be a restricted free agent, but that doesn't mean he's not free to make visits to clubs around the league.
According to Brett Martel of the Associated Press, Butler will make a free-agent visit to the Saints down in New Orleans on Thursday.
Butler's name has been linked to the Saints for almost a week now, ever since it was reported that the Patriots were considering a trade that would send the corner to New Orleans in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks. A swap involving Butler couldn't be worked out at the time because Butler still has not signed his first-round tender with the Patriots and is not under contract.
THE MALCOLM BUTLER SAGA
- Texans reportedly interested in trading for Butler
- Volin: Most likely outcome is Butler returns for one more year
- Curran: Here's an easy solution for Butler
- Cap guru Miguel Benzan discusses what would be a 'fair deal'
- Mayo: What they say in the locker room is 'don't count the other man's money'
The Patriots moved on Cooks regardless, sending their first-rounder (No. 32 overall) and a third-rounder to the Saints in exchange for the dynamic wideout and a fourth.
With Butler making a visit to New Orleans, though, it seems like a second trade between the Patriots and Saints is in play.
Here are some of the different possible scenarios for Butler, with one clear front-runner . . .
* Butler could make a visit to New Orleans and receive an offer sheet. If he were to sign it and the Patriots opted not to match, the Patriots would be handed the Saints first-round pick, which is No. 11 overall. It seems highly unlikely the Saints would be willing to sign Butler to a long-term contract and give up that kind of draft capital, and Larry Holder of NOLA.com confirms that the Saints would not be willing to.
* Butler could receive an offer sheet from the Saints, and the Patriots could match. This also seems relatively unlikely given the amount of money Bill Belichick and his front office just put into the cornerback position by locking up Stephon Gilmore to a big-money free-agent deal. It's a possibility financially because the Patriots have so much cap space available to them, but if Butler is going to play in New England in 2017, it would seem to make more sense for the team that he play on the first-round tender worth $3.91 million.
* Butler and the Saints could discuss parameters of a new contract that would be palatable to both sides, which would help lay the groundwork for a trade between New England and New Orleans. This seems to be the most likely scenario. With the framework for a deal with the Saints in place, Butler could return to New England and sign his first-round tender with the Patriots, which would then make him eligible to be traded. Once the Patriots and Saints worked out a deal -- perhaps something that would include New England getting back No. 32 overall -- Butler and the Saints could officially ink a deal that would pay Butler something closer to what he believes he's worth. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport has reported that the Saints and Butler have already started negotiating a new contract, and they're hoping to have something hammered out this week. Once that occurs, and once Butler signs his tender with the Patriots, then a trade can be executed.