The New England Patriots have already had a busy 2017 offseason. Trades, one of the biggest-name free agency signings, re-signing key players – you name it. However, there is one big issue left on the team’s agenda: The restricted free agency of Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler.
The story is well known by now: The 27-year old has been assigned the first-round tender by the Patriots prior to the start of free agency. He has not yet signed it, though, and instead has received interest from the New Orleans Saints. The Saints actually hosted Butler on a visit but are not willing to sign him to an offer sheet and potentially give up the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft.
New England, in the meantime, has also not been inactive. The team has reportedly expressed interest in Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whom his team has put up for sale. The Patriots’ interest naturally appears to be closely linked to Butler and the uncertainty surrounding his status as a restricted free agent. After all, Sherman – still in the prime of his career – will not be a cheap acquisition and New England will not pursue him if it becomes clear that Butler stays in 2017.
The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe therefore proposed a potential three-way trade involving the Patriots, Saints and Seahawks: New England receives draft picks from New Orleans for Butler and in turn uses them to get Sherman from Seattle. Playing along this dynamic could create another interesting scenario:
What if the Patriots and Seahawks simply swap Butler and Sherman?
On the surface, this would make sense for both teams as neither would see a dramatic drop-off in quality at the cornerback position. Comparing Butler’s 2016 campaign to Sherman’s solidifies this thought and shows that both have been among the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season:
Should the #Patriots pursue Richard Sherman? #CSNstats pic.twitter.com/p3MKOVNmfU— CSN New England (@CSNNE) April 6, 2017
The two players’ quality is not the lone reason why a potential trade would work for both parties. It also makes sense when looking at a broader context: The Patriots’ and Seahawks’ respective rosters and salary cap situations.
Seattle, with currently $9.7 million left in cap space, would free up an additional $9.2 million in 2017 as well as $11.0 million in 2018 if Sherman got traded – money that could be used to re-sign upcoming free agents like Kam Chancellor or Jimmy Graham. While Butler, who is looking for a long-term contract, would take up some of the freed-up cap space, the Seahawks could still potentially save a few millions compared to Sherman’s deal.
Trading for Butler instead of draft picks would also ensure that Seattle enters next season with a clear-cut number one cornerback on the roster. Otherwise, the team would have to rely on draft picks and players like DeShawn Shead – coming off an ACL tear – and Jeremy Lane.
The top of New England’s cornerback depth chart, on the other hand, consists of Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Cyrus Jones. While Rowe has proven to be an effective player in Matt Patricia’s defensive system, Gilmore and Jones are relative unknowns at this point: The former has just been signed in free agency, while the latter struggled during his 2016 rookie campaign. Given his talent, Gilmore should work out fine, but third cornerback might be less of a settled spot entering next season.
Adding another proven high-quality option like Sherman would thus make sense for the Patriots – giving them insurance in case Jones fails to elevate his play to the next level just yet. Gilmore and Sherman could then serve as the outside cornerbacks, with Rowe as the number three option. In three-corner-sets, Gilmore could move inside to cover the slot; similar to how the team used Logan Ryan last season.
Financially, New England would also be in a position to pursue Sherman. The 29-year old would hit the salary cap with $11.4 million in 2017 and an even $11.0 million next season. Still, the Patriots currently have $22.0 million in salary cap space; enough to take on Sherman even if his contract is not re-done.
A potential trade scenario between the Patriots and Seahawks would not be without its question marks, though. Is New England willing to pay significant money to a second cornerback? Do the Seahawks value draft picks more than a player? Would the 29-year old Sherman actually be the best intermediate-term option for the Patriots?
Over the course of the next few weeks, we may get clarity on how those questions are viewed by those involved. As things stand right now, though, a Butler for Sherman trade is only a hypothetical – although plausible – option. And as is the case with any potential trade, it cannot actually take place until Butler signs the one-year, $3.91 million offer sheet the Patriots have placed on him. Until then, everything else is speculation.
Would you trade Malcolm Butler to the Seahawks for Richard Sherman?
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