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Reconciling a potentially ugly contract situation: Finding the right deal to keep CB Malcolm Butler in New England

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The Patriots CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero is looking for a long term deal and is frustrated after the Patriots went out and signed Stephon Gilmore. I’ve devised a long term contract proposal that can make both Butler and the Patriots happy.

The Patriots and CB Malcolm Butler are in a pickle when it comes to figuring out a long term deal. Butler is currently a restricted free agent and the Patriots gave him the first round tender. The tender is worth $3.91M for 2017, and as far as the Patriots are concerned, that’s where a long term deal starts.

If I’m Derek Simpson, Butler’s agent, I’m telling him, "Malcolm, the Patriots are rigid on starting the contract at 1/$3.91M for 2017. You have two realistic options. Play through the entire 2017 season on the tender to get to unrestricted free agency or try to negotiate a long term extension past 2017."

Butler’s restricted free agency gives the Patriots all the leverage in talks. If Butler is able to convince a team to sign him to an offer sheet, the Patriots have the right to refuse. With a first round tender attached, the team that signs Butler gives their original first round pick to the Patriots (ex. Saints would lose the 11th pick in the draft). With the cost of a first round pick, teams aren’t likely to give Butler a deal to break the bank and that’s if the Patriots don’t match the deal. That’s why his two options are play through the season or work on an extension past 2017.

Earlier today, Jeff Howe reported the Patriots gave Butler a $6-7M extension offer before the 2016 season. Butler was slated to play at $600k on the final year of his UDFA deal. Add in the $3.91M tender and a franchise tag projected to be around $15M in 2017, that’s essentially a 3/$19.5M deal. Perhaps that’s exactly what the Patriots offered, and Butler turned it down looking for a bigger deal to pay him more per season. With the risk all on him, Butler played the 2016 season injury-free instead of taking the offer and passing the risk onto the team. With that in mind, Butler is likely to do the same in 2017, with only 1 year separating him and unrestricted free agency.

So what would be Butler’s value in restricted free agency? Butler asked the Patriots for Stephon Gilmore money after seeing the Patriots sign him on Thursday afternoon. So that had me thinking, what would Butler’s long term deal look like with Stephon Gilmore money? Here it is:

A look at Butler’s potential contract if Gilmore’s APY is used in the extension.
Credit to overthecap.com for listing CB contracts

The Patriots had reportedly told Butler also that they weren’t planning on signing a CB for more than $10M APY last season. Assuming that’s the Patriots offer for Butler for 2017 and beyond, that means that the Patriots aren’t going to give Butler more than $10M per year for a deal this season. The reasoning behind it is that the RFA tender and the franchise tag would average to about $9M per season. Calculating new money into a long term deal that pays Butler $10M, it’s $16M for 1 year, $13M per year for 2, $12M per year for 3, and $11.5M per year for 4. The best structure may be a 4/$40M deal, with Butler getting $12M per year in new money. The deal would have to give him a better 2-year payout than what he’d get with the first round tender and the franchise tag.

So I came up with this:

Butler $10M APY deal for 4 years, which is really a 3/$36.09M extension for 2018-2020.

The deal pays Butler a $12M signing bonus and guarantees him $26.2M, which would be the 5th highest paid CB in that department as the deal is significantly front-loaded. The first year cap number is set at $3.91M after some creative accounting with incentive amounts. As Butler gets older, the amount of incentives increase by $50k each year. Over the deal, Butler will get a total of $100k for attending offseason camp. The All Star Incentive pays Butler for winning the Super Bowl or being named to the Pro Bowl or an AP All-Pro team, a not likely to be earned incentive passed on the next season’s cap. The 46-Man bonus is pretty straightforward, just divide by 16 for an in-game bonus. In addition, the salaries for Years 1-3 are fully guaranteed so that keeps Butler in Foxboro through his Age 29 season.

The deal pays Butler $19.783M in the first two seasons, which is more than he would get playing on the first round tender and getting franchise tagged in 2018. A roster option is included for $2M, where if the Patriots decline the option Butler becomes a free agent at 30 and the team saves $11.883M on the cap. If Butler hits all incentives over the first three years, the deal pays him $28.067M. I think this deal is a win-win, Butler gets the 10th highest APY in new money and 5th highest guaranteed number at the CB position while the Patriots can pay Butler under reasonable cap numbers for Years 1-3 and move on in 2020. The front-loaded deal plus high guaranteed number is what I’m hoping puts pen to paper at the end and a handshake.