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Report: CB Malcolm Butler signed his restricted free agent tender, so what happens next?

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Malcolm Butler is officially on the books for $3.91M for the 2017 for now

With the draft quickly approaching, CB Malcolm Butler has signed his restricted free agent tender. The Patriots had originally tagged Butler with a first round tender, worth $3.91M. In the last 15 years, only one first round RFA had been signed away. With the heavy cost of a first round pick and Butler’s demand to be paid top of the market, there weren’t many suitors in the first place.

The Patriots and Butler have been in a contract dispute, mostly involving Butler’s RFA status. Butler’s camp wanted Butler to be paid as an unrestricted free agent, whereas the Patriots aren’t even considering it. The Patriots started free agency by signing CB Stephon Gilmore away from the Bills to a 5-year, $65M deal that essentially breaks down to 3/$42M. With Butler’s camp upset about that, there were reports that the Patriots were considering trading him as part of the Brandin Cooks trade.

Last year, the Patriots offered Butler a $6-7M extension before the season, which would have paid him more than the $19.5M he would collect on an UDFA salary, 1st round tender, and franchise tag over 3 years. Instead, Butler chose to bet on himself and had a stellar 2016 campaign that cemented him as one of the top 15 CBs in the game. With Butler back in the fold, the team has a strong duo with him and Gilmore at the top of the depth chart.

As for the long term solution, there are really 3 options for Butler:

  1. Sign a long term extension: Butler will be 27 and can be tagged for an estimated $14-15M after the season. Butler’s value may not be any higher, as he’s played two seasons at an UDFA salary without injury. A long term extension pushes the risk of injury from the player to the team. Even though Butler has been upset with his contract situation, he hasn’t burned any bridges with the team. Butler’s value might not get much higher as a player, so it may be a good idea to cash in while his value is at its peak.
  2. Bet on himself: With 1 year separating Butler and potentially unrestricted free agency, Butler could try to opt to bet on himself. This comes with severe risk, because Butler’s value could plummet with an injury or any drop off in performance. If Butler plays well, there’s also a chance the Patriots could franchise tag him for $14-15M and delay his free agency another year until his Age 29 season.
  3. Get traded: Butler can always ask for a trade. The Patriots have shown they are willing to move players that want out or won’t be able to afford long term. Whether it was Richard Seymour, Chandler Jones, or Jamie Collins, the Patriots have always been more willing to let a player go a year early than late. The precedent for the Patriots shipping out a player early has been a 1st (Seymour) or a 2nd (Jones).

The good news is Butler won’t hold out like Logan Mankins did. The Patriots have always put Butler in a strong position to succeed and barring injury should have a good 3rd year as the starting LCB. Gilmore’s ability to cover taller receivers will allow the Patriots to use Butler in more favorable matchups.