New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler is “frustrated” with his contract and is looking for a potential trade spot where he can be paid like an elite cornerback. The Patriots signed CB Stephon Gilmore to a contract for $13 million per season, with an average of $14 million cash over the first three years (Patriots won’t cut Gilmore for three years due to dead salary cap space).
Pats would be cool with getting a 1st rnd pick for Butler (they don't have a 1 or 2) I hear. Butler is telling teams he wants Gilmore $$ ...— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2017
Butler’s search for a potential trade partner for the Patriots reminds me of two contract problems that the Patriots have had under head coach Bill Belichick: WR Deion Branch and OG Logan Mankins.
Branch was the Patriots second round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft and signed a 5-year contract. He ascended to the Patriots top receiver position, capped off with a Super Bowl XXXIX MVP award, and entered the final year of his contract looking for an extension. The two sides couldn’t reach terms on an extension before the start of the 2006 season and the Patriots allowed Branch to reach out for potential trade partners.
The Patriots ultimately dealt Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2007 first round pick, which the Patriots used on FS Brandon Meriweather. Branch signed a 6-year, $39 million contract with the Seahawks.
Mankins was the Patriots first round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and signed a 5-year contract, just like Branch. He was the Patriots starting left guard and was named Second Team All Pro in 2007 and 2009. The league followed different Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) at this point, so Mankins was a restricted free agent upon the completion of his rookie deal.
The Patriots placed the highest tender on Mankins, just like they did on Butler, which Mankins refused to sign in hopes of receiving top of the market money. Mankins actually asked for a trade in the summer leading into the 2010 season and held out for the first seven games of the season, before rejoining the team and earning First Team All Pro distinction.
After the 2010 season, Mankins was actually an unrestricted free agent and the Patriots placed the franchise tag on him, again restricting his access to the open market- and despite Mankins’ request for the Patriots not to use the tag on him. Mankins signed his franchise tender late in July of 2011 before signing a 6-year, $51 million contract, making him the then-highest paid interior lineman in NFL history.
These are two different players that entered their final contract years under Patriots control, where both asked to be traded. One was a Super Bowl MVP and went to the Seahawks, and one was a multi-year All Pro that played out his restricted tag and ended up as the highest paid player at his position in NFL history.
It should be noted that Branch lasted four seasons with the Seahawks before he was traded back to the Patriots in 2010, where he expressed regret for forcing a trade and thought about what would have happened if he remained in New England.
“I think about it a lot,” Branch told Peter King of SI.com, via ProFootballTalk. “My brother and my father do too. They say, ‘You’d be ready to put a gold jacket on if you stayed.’”
Mankins, for his part, was named Second Team All Pro from 2011-13, before the Patriots shipped him to the Buccaneers prior to the 2014 season.
While Butler is fully within his rights to try and find the best possible contract, it would be surprising if he were able to find a team willing to shell out a first round pick and a top dollar contract for his services.
But the Patriots and Butler can go three different ways. Butler can find an improbable trade partner willing to part with a first round pick in a draft with four or five first round caliber cornerbacks; he can take the Patriots current contract extension offer (if it’s still on the table after the Gilmore contract); or he can play out under his restricted and hope that he remains healthy enough and plays at a high enough level to get a top-of-the-market deal.
Butler will have to evaluate the risks with all three options- and as the Patriots past has shown, all three options are possible.