The Patriots surprised everyone this morning when news of the team signing Bills CB Stephon Gilmore to a lucrative FA deal. If you’ve been following the Patriots for a long time, that type of move seems out of character for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. The Patriots rarely go out and sign a top FA to a huge contract, even though the Patriots have faced off against Gilmore ten times since he was picked 10th overall in 2012.
Butler has to be paying attention to these moves and on the surface has to feel somewhat disrespected the team opted to pay a FA top money over him. Last year, Butler played all season despite not being happy with his contract situation. Butler first introduced himself to the world with an incredible INT to cap off Super Bowl XLIX that resulted in a 28-24 Patriots win. In 2015, Butler was named to the Pro Bowl and was expecting a long term extension in the offseason, and it was reported to be close. After a strong 2016 that had Butler honored as a 2nd team All-Pro at CB, and was given the first round tender for a restricted free agent this week.
For the Patriots, there are three options but only two practical solutions. The first is letting Butler find the deal he wants in FA then figure out whether to match or let him walk for a first round pick. If he doesn’t get that deal, they could play hardball with Butler like they did with Logan Mankins back in 2010, but it could explode into a toxic situation where Butler holds out. I hope it never comes anywhere close to that. The second option is to trade him to a team in need of a CB, which is why a Butler for Brandin Cooks swap gained a little bit of traction today. Secondary signals indicate such a deal could be imminent with the Saints signing speedster Ted Ginn Jr. as a possible Cooks replacement. Schefter reported that the Patriots are the frontrunner to land the Saints’ disgruntled WR. The third option is paying Malcolm Butler, which is the preferred option for Patriots fans.
To sign Butler to a long term deal, a similar structure to what the Patriots gave Gilmore is probably what Butler’s camp would ask for. Would the Patriots be willing to hand Butler a $13M APY extension with $26-40M guaranteed? Maybe, but there’s nothing to indicate that the Patriots will do so yet. The team is focused on locking up Dont’a Hightower to a long term deal and figuring out whether to do the same with fellow CB Logan Ryan. The team has already made some significant progress today by re-signing DT Alan Branch and 3rd safety Duron Harmon to long term deals and have about $25M in cap space to spend in FA this year and they can’t use it all on 2 players.
We already know Belichick doesn’t care about sentimental value, it’s one of his greatest characteristics as a talent evaluator. Belichick doesn’t care about what you did yesterday, he only cares about what you’re going to do for him today and in the future. There’s no question that Butler is deserving of a lucrative deal and there are teams willing to pay him that. Belichick has some number he values Butler at and sticks with it no matter what. I don’t know that number, I’m not Bill Belichick or anyone else involved in these negotiations. At the same time, Belichick is more likely to jettison a player a year early than a year late, as we saw with Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins last year. Butler could be the next Patriot to learn that the hard way.
The Patriots have Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman signed for 2017. The Patriots drafted Cyrus Jones in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, so they have big plans for him. Given that the Patriots traded a mid-round pick in 2018 for Rowe, he’s also in the consideration for the team’s future. Of the top 3 CBs, someone has to play the slot against a 3 WR set. My guess is that Butler would be the one asked to play there, assuming his contract situation is settled and Butler remains in New England.
UPDATE: Michael Lombardi offers his explanation for why the Patriots elected to give a lucrative deal to Stephon Gilmore instead of Malcolm Butler. If you’re curious to read the rest of the article, here’s the link.