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If the Patriots want to extend Malcolm Butler, now's the time

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Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is reportedly looking for a new contract, and if New England wants to keep him, they need to pony up, right now.

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You guys have all seen the original Toy Story, right?

"This is no time to panic."

"THIS IS A PERFECT TIME TO PANIC!!!"

And if you were busy enjoying your Memorial Day weekend, Saturday's report that New England's best cornerback - and Pro Bowler - Malcolm Butler wasn't participating in Thursday's organized team activities was enough for ESPN's Mike Reiss to hypothesize that Butler may be holding out for a new contract.  Here's what Reiss had to say while you were busy stuffing your face with hot dogs, burgers, and brewskis:

"While the reason for his absence is not known, I wouldn't be surprised if it was related to his contract status. Butler has told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks. Butler was present for the team's "Fantasy Camp" with high-paying sponsors Wednesday and was playing basketball at a local high school with teammates two weeks ago, so it's not as if he hasn't been around. But I think it's fair to say it's a situation to monitor in the weeks and months ahead."

It's fair to say that Reiss's last sentence about what's fair to say is fairly alarming to fans of the team that sported, however unexpectedly, one of the NFL's best defenses last year.

So let's assume that Reiss is right, as he almost always is, and assume that Malcolm Butler wants a new contract, which he completely, deservedly does:

IF - and IF - that's the case - which, again, is an IF that we're purely hypothesizing about - the Patriots need to pull the trigger and give the man some ca$h, and do it now.  Not tomorrow.  Not after training camp.  Not yesterday.  Now.

Why?

Look at the Rob Gronkowski extension, and that's all you need to know.

Gronk's new contract was, at the time, the biggest contract for a tight end in NFL history.  Six years, $53 million, and $10 million option that, of course, New England exercised in 2015.  What are tight ends that don't have bricks for hands getting paid now?

Travis Kelce, five years, $46 million.  Zach Ertz, six years, $43.6 million.  Delanie Walker, a two-year extension for $14.7 million.

None of these guys are anything close to Gronk, and yet they're still basically getting paid like Gronk is, based on the raw numbers.

The Patriots have the tiniest sliver of leverage in this whole Malcolm Butler thing - and if they don't take advantage of it, they're going with the equivalent of playing Texas Hold 'Em and pushing all their chips all in before they see the flop.

(That means betting on the hand in poker before you know what the cards are, which, is obviously, stupid.)

Malcolm Butler has one Pro Bowl season under his belt.  That's awesome - but that's it.

Malcolm Butler was one of the best surprises of the 2015 season - after the Patriots secondary was supposed to be, by all accounts, dead on arrival.  Not only did the kid do his job, he made the Pro Bowl and, according to Pro Football Focus, is one of the better defensive backs in the NFL.

But that's not the whole reason Butler needs to be locked up now.  MB was on the field for a whopping 98.8% of the Patriots' defensive snaps this year.  There's no reason to believe he'll slow down.  Quite the opposite - after a year defending against Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, and whoever else was unfortunate enough to run a route against him, why would the kid regress in 2016?  Barring a catastrophic injury, there's no reason to think he will.

Hence, the need to get an extension done.

Have you guys SEEN what Pro Bowl corners make these days?!?  Or even a guy like Byron Maxwell, who took his Legion of Boom bragging rights and parlayed it into a $63 million deal in Philadelphia?  And Josh Norman, who's had two elite-level years and one All-Pro selection?  Washington pulled a classic Dan Snyder move and guaranteed Norman $50 million after the whole franchise-tag breakup thing with Carolina, and we could go on and on about how much cash BAMF corners can get these days, but you get the idea.

And if Butler is serious about holding out until a new deal gets done, does a team that's clearly in Super Bowl or bust mode need a guy holding out during training camp and/or the preseason, like Seattle's Kam Chancellor did last season?  It's gone down that way before in New England, with guys like Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins, and those were guys that had a body of work big enough to fill a Blockbuster store.

Malcolm Butler's had one very good year and still looks like he's on the rise after a year of playing against the best receivers the NFL had to throw at him.  If he really has the borderline-shutdown potential the team saw in him last year, why not lock him up now, when the team can pay him based on his progress now, instead of waiting until Butler logs another good season and has the Patriots AND every thirsty team in the NFL pushing wheelbarrows of cash up to his front door?

If Mac is the future at cornerback, why not jump at the chance that's kind of fallen into the team's lap to get him on a deal that's even a little bit under market value?

One more fun Malcolm Butler fact: before his Super Bowl interception, Butler was a 70 overall in Madden '15.

After the 2016 season, he was rated 91 overall.

If the Patriots want to keep a guy like that in New England, this holdout - if it even is what ESPN says it is - could be a blessing in disguise, and the best way to get it done.

What do you guys think?  Should New England stand pat and let him play out his current deal, or pay the man?