New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler is set to become a restricted free agent, which means that the Patriots will have the opportunity to match whatever offers the third-year cornerback receives on the open market. Using recent contracts for elite cornerbacks as precedence, we can try to determine where the Patriots and Butler will start their extension talks.
The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin does a nice job laying out a simple extension for Butler.
“Butler is a restricted free agent, and the Patriots will place a first-round tender on him,” Volin writes. “This will guarantee him a salary of about $4 million in 2017, though if he signs with another team (highly unlikely), the Patriots would get that team’s first-round pick in return (the Patriots get the right to match any offer, as well). The Patriots should then look to sign Butler to a multiyear deal. Since he will make about $4 million in 2017 and the franchise-tag number in 2018 should be between $14 million-$15 million, any contract for Butler should start at about $19 million over two years.”
Butler is coming off a season where he was named Second Team All Pro, so he is coming off a top five cornerback season. If we factor in the standard ups and downs of a year and his potential upside, ranking Butler as a top 10 cornerback is definitely reasonable and should be where the contract comparisons begin.
Of the top 10 cornerback contracts, eight have been written in the past two offseasons (CB Richard Sheman and CB Aqib Talib the lone exceptions). The average deal is 5-years for $12.5 million per season. The key is in the guaranteed money.
Of the 17 biggest cornerback contracts, 16 have at least 44.7% of the total contract value guaranteed. 13 have at least 50% guaranteed, and four of the top five have at least two-thirds of the contract guaranteed. The Patriots will likely have to guarantee closer to the 60% mark since the $4 million Butler is scheduled to receive in 2017 is peanuts compared to the top cornerbacks in the league.
I would argue that the Patriots and Butler could look at the first two years of the contract as Volin laid out (2 years, $19 million), and then tack on three extra years at the $12.5 million per year rate that the top cornerbacks in the league are averaging. This results in a 5-year, $56.5 million contract, where the Patriots could guarantee either 60% of the total value, or the first three years of the deal.
If the Patriots don’t guarantee some money beyond the second season, Butler might rather bet on himself for the next two years and reach another pay day at the age of 29. The 5-year contract average of $11.3 million per season would place Butler 8th in the NFL for cornerback salaries, and would keep Butler in New England through his age-31 season.