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Rodney Harrison thinks Malcolm Butler will still get a huge contract in free agency

The Patriots cornerback has a fan in the retired Patriots safety.

Tennessee Titans Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is having a “down” season in 2017, but that perception is just the result of his exceptional play in 2015 and 2016. After emerging as a solid #1 cornerback in his first year as a starter in 2015, he elevated his play to All Pro levels in 2016.

But so far in 2017, he’s simply been average with particular struggles keeping his receiver out of the end zone.

Butler is still a great cornerback and his expected play as he enters his prime is likely to be more similar to his solid 2015 season than the highs of 2016 or the lows of 2017. But as a free agent after this season, Butler’s value has taken a major hit compared to what it could have been if he were an unrestricted coming off his All Pro season.

All is not lost for Butler’s financial well-being, though, as former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison believes that Butler will still get a big contract offer in free agency.

“I’ve been a guy that’s played for a contract and I think [Butler] put a lot of pressure on himself to perform at a high level,” Harrison said on Tuesday. “The plays he was making were [similar to plays that a] 12-to-15 million dollar a year cornerback was making like a Patrick Peterson.

“I think this year he came in [this year] and knew he was a free agent. He’s a guy that competes, he’ll get in your face, he doesn’t point the finger at anybody, he accepts blame, so I still think he’s going to get his money.

“You got to understand he’s playing in a very difficult system as well and a lot of scrutiny all the time. I think he’s a tremendous young player and I think somebody’s going to pay him.”

Butler wanted to be paid the $13 million per season deal that the Patriots handed Stephon Gilmore in free agency, but he won’t be getting it from the Patriots. A $12 million per season deal would place Butler in the top 10 for all cornerbacks and it’s a valid question and concern for teams whether or not he’ll play like a top 10 cornerback.

Because if teams get the 2016 version of Butler, they’re getting a top 5 cornerback, but a 2015 version of Butler is more likely in the $9-to-11 million range- and a 2017 version of Butler comes in the $6-to-8 million bracket.

I would expect Butler to test the market and to bring back an offer to New England, similar to what Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty did in the past.

Teams like the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, and Indianapolis Colts could all use a top flight corner and have plenty of cap space to splurge on the premium position, while the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans would also make some sense as suitors.

Would Butler be willing to take a small discount to stay with the Patriots? Or would he want to join Josh McDaniels with the Colts or Jimmy Garoppolo with the 49ers? I think joining the Rams with defensive coordinator and mastermind Wade Phillips would be an intriguing match, too.

Butler deserves to take advantage of the market in free agency and cash in on his overall outstanding performance in a Patriots uniform, much like how Logan Ryan snagged a $10 million per year deal from the Tennessee Titans.

Malcolm, GO (get your money)!