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2022 NFL free agency: Patriots signed Malcolm Butler to a low-risk/high-reward contract

Related: Where will Malcolm Butler land on the Chung-Thompkins Scale?

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The New England Patriots have not made a lot of high-profile signings since the start of free agency earlier this month. In fact, one could argue that the return of cornerback Malcolm Butler was the most noteworthy move involving an outside player before this week’s addition of safety Jabrill Peppers.

Butler, after all, had left the Patriots as a free agent in 2018 under suspicious circumstances. The former starter was effectively benched for the Super Bowl to end the previous season, and it seemed as if his relationship with New England had soured significantly. And then, after three years with the Tennessee Titans, a short stint in Arizona, and one season in retirement, Butler was suddenly back.

The veteran cornerback returned on a two-year pact at a value of $9 million. As a look at its details show, however the deal can be classified as a low-risk/high-reward investment by the Patriots (via Miguel Benzan).

2022

  • Base salary: $1.24 million (incl. $250,000 guaranteed)
  • Signing bonus proration: $250,000
  • Offseason workout bonus: $250,000
  • Active roster bonus: $510,000
  • Incentives: $2 million
  • Salary cap number: $2.22 million

As can be seen, the Patriots gave Butler $750,000 in guarantees. A part of his 2022 salary as well as his signing bonus are fully guaranteed, which shows how the team views him and his chances of making the roster this year: he is no surefire lock but has a very good chance of ultimately surviving the cut.

One interesting tidbit about Butler’s deal is that $480,000 of his active roster bonus is considered likely to be earned (LTBE) and thus counting against New England’s current salary cap. Butler did not play in 2021, so it appears the 2020 season when Butler was active for all 16 of the Titans’ regular season games is used as a reference.

2023

  • Base salary: $1.74 million
  • Signing bonus proration: $250,000
  • Offseason workout bonus: $250,000
  • Active roster bonus: $510,000
  • Incentives: $2 million
  • Salary cap number: $2.75 million

The contract structure in 2023 is almost the same as in 2022, with two differences. Butler’s base salary increases to $1.74 million, and none of it is guaranteed. Accordingly, the odds of making the roster are also not as high next season as they are this year.

That said, Butler’s salary cap number in 2023 is still very much manageable even if he earns a considerable portion of his not likely to be earned (NLTBE) incentives in 2022: he could add up to $2 million to next year’s cap number that way, but even if he succeeds in doing that — which would probably mean him playing at a very high starter level — a cap hit of $4.75 is very reasonable.

Butler sticking around both years is not an unrealistic outcome, and one that would make him a worthwhile investment considering the comparatively small cap impact his deal has.