PHOENIX -- The idea that Malcolm Butler could be traded by the Patriots before the start of the 2017 season has been floated for weeks. But if Robert Kraft had his way, he'd like for the hero of Super Bowl XLIX to stick around.
At the Biltmore hotel on Day 2 of the league's annual meetings, Kraft was asked if he anticipated having Butler back in New England for next season.
"I sure hope so," he said. "We have [a first-round tender] out to him, and I know he has the ability to go out in the market and get someone to sign him, and then we either match it or get the first-round draft pick.
"I'm rooting, I hope, he's with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us. I have a great affection for him. He was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team, but there are a lot of people involved in that."
The Patriots can't trade any player who isn't under contract, and they can't talk about a trade for a player not on their roster. Therefore, even if the Patriots hoped to deal Butler and get something in return for the Pro Bowl-caliber corner before he hits unrestricted free agency in 2018, it's not something that the owner of the team would be at liberty to discuss with dozens of microphones in front of his face.
The tender offer of $3.91 million for one season is still out there for Butler. He could sign it and play in New England. He could sign it and be traded. For now, Kraft says he's hoping for the former -- and insists that the Patriots didn't have designs on the latter all along.
"I don't want to, in any way, take away from his rights [as a restricted free agent]," he said, adding, "I want to be clear. I hope he's with us."