With their biggest unrestricted free agent – linebacker and team captain Dont’a Hightower – finally off the market and re-signed, the New England Patriots can turn their focus to another one of their defensive stalwarts: cornerback Malcolm Butler, who is looking for a long-term contract.
The story is well-known by now. The Patriots placed the first round tender on the restricted free agent but Butler has yet to sign it. Instead he is looking for a new contract that pays him more than the $3.91 million the tender sheet would. With New England apparently not yet willing to negotiate, the 27-year old has set his sights on other teams; among them the New Orleans Saints.
Last week, Butler flew to New Orleans to talk to the Saints about a potential contract. And according to CSNNE’s Mike Giardi, the talks were productive:
Don't read too much into silence on Butler front. Focused on Saints. Parameters of deal mostly in place. Some quibbling over guaranteed $$$
While the two parties might ultimately reach a preliminary agreement, Butler cannot join the Saints prior to signing his tender sheet from the Patriots. Only then can a deal between the two teams be worked on – one that sees New England on the higher ground due to Butler’s status as a restricted free agent.
There are two ways for New Orleans to get the Pro Bowl cornerback after he signed his tender. They could sign Butler to an offer sheet themselves, which the Patriots have five days to match or else they will get the Saints’ original first round draft pick (#11 overall). The second option is to work out a separate trade with New England.
Whichever scenario takes place, the starting point for both appears to be draft pick number 11 or another form of compensation with a similar value – a recent report by Pro Football Central reflects this:
Patriots have locked in on #11. Saints weighing options. Saints mulling offer. Some in organization think #11 and a longterm deal too high
The Patriots, of course, could start negotiations with Butler’s camp about a long-term deal at any point. And given that they still own the 10th most salary cap space in the NFL, per overthecap.com, they could afford to make a significant financial commitment to the player. Only after Butler signs his tender sheet will the Saints get involved.