Malcolm Butler put pen to paper on Tuesday and committed to playing for the Patriots in 2017 for the rate of $3.91 million.
Honestly, what the hell else was he supposed to do?
After more than a month as a restricted free agent, it was obvious no team was going to give Butler what he was reportedly looking for. Talented as Butler is, the freight of $10 million per year on a new deal AND shipping a first-round pick to the Patriots for the privilege of signing him was too much for a 27-year-old corner who’s a little on the small side.
But now that he’s signed, more options actually open up.
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The Saints -- who hosted Butler on a visit last month -- could now rejoin their effort to bring him aboard since they wouldn’t be on the hook to send New England their first-rounder (11th overall). Instead, they could send the Patriots the 32nd overall pick, a selection New Orleans got from the Patriots in exchange for Brandin Cooks last month.
That would ostensibly make the deal Cooks and a fourth-rounder to the Patriots in exchange for Butler and a third-rounder. That 32nd pick would have just served as a place-holder until Butler signed his tender.
A Cooks-for-Butler trade was reported by ESPN on March 9 to be under consideration but it was quickly muffled. The reason? Butler was not under contract and couldn’t be shipped anywhere by the Patriots until after he signed his tender. It was made very clear by the Patriots that the acquisition of Cooks was all about picks, a stance that Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio says was evidence of how leery Bill Belichick is of violating the restricted free agent rules.
With Butler signed for 2017 (his $3.91 million salary would go with him if he were traded), the Saints -- or any team trading for him -- would have controlled cost for this year then could go forward with signing Butler to an extension before he becomes a restricted free agent next March. Or his new team could franchise him.
Or Butler could just stay in New England and play out the season. The fact that the Patriots signed free agent Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal at the start of free agency pretty much guarantees Butler won’t be getting heavy long-term dough here. But it doesn’t preclude the Patriots from keeping him in 2017, either.
Currently, the Patriots don’t have a pick in the first or second round of the draft. Trading Butler is an obvious way to get that pick back. Keeping him is an obvious way to having one of the NFL’s best secondaries.