Malcolm Butler built his reputation with the interception that sealed the New England Patriots Super Bowl 49 victory over the Seahawks. Two years later, Butler may not even be a part of the team when the season starts.
Butler and the team are at odds over his contract. He wants to be paid like a top cornerback, but the Patriots hold all the leverage. Butler isn’t pleased and would like to leave, according to Comcast Sports Net’s Michael Giardi.
The Patriots placed a first-round tender on Butler, a restricted free agent, which means other teams can make offers to Butler, but the Patriots have the opportunity to match. If a team makes an offer for Butler and the Patriots choose to not match, New England would receive that team’s first-round pick in 2017.
That theoretically decreases Butler’s appeal. But if a team can get a player who made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and was named a second-team All-Pro last season for a first round pick, that’s not a bad trade off.
The New Orleans Saints at least seem to be considering it, and are set to bring in Butler for a visit Thursday. If the team signs Butler and the Patriots opt not to match the contract, the Saints would lose the No. 11 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
It’s a worthwhile exploration for Butler, because the first-round tender would guarantee Butler only $3.91 million in 2017. That’s a significant raise from the $600,000 he earned in 2016, but it’s also considerably less than the going rate for top corners. Complicating the matter is the Patriots’ decision to spend big on a free agent cornerback last week.
New England signed Stephon Gilmore, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, to a massive five-year, $65 million contract, with $40 million guaranteed, to be the Patriots’ new No. 1 corner.
Butler wasn’t happy with the signing.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the Patriots told Butler last season they would not pay any cornerback more than $10 million per year. The Patriots made Butler a much lower offer last year:
Patriots offered Butler somewhere around $6M to $7M annually last season. Butler hoped to be paid in the ballpark of a top-10 CB.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) March 13, 2017
You can understand his frustration. But Howe said Tuesday on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub that Butler has “calmed down” and would prefer to stay in New England. There is interest from other teams, though, and Butler is exploring his options.
The Patriots were reportedly discussing including Butler in the trade to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. Butler thwarted those plans because he has not yet signed his tender, and until he does, the Patriots do not have the right to trade him. The Patriots couldn’t actually discuss the possibility of incorporating Butler into that deal.
But if Butler wants to walk, Bill Belichick is unlikely to try and stop him. Adding Gilmore means the Patriots still have an elite cornerback in the defensive backfield, and if another team is willing to sign Butler, the Patriots get a first round pick out of it.
This is a player who went from running the fryolater at a Popeye’s Chicken to signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in the 2014 draft. He became a star with his dramatic goal-line interception of Russell Wilson’s pass attempt that would have given the Seahawks a lead in Super Bowl 49. The pick sealed the win for New England.
Butler finished the 2016 season with four interceptions, 17 pass breakups, and one sack. He was a key part of the New England defense that helped win Super Bowl 51 for the Patriots.
But this is Belichick, who won’t hesitate to move on from almost any player when the time comes, not even a Super Bowl hero. Richard Seymour and Ty Law come to mind. Law told ESPN in 2014 that he believes the approach has kept the Patriots from winning more championships.
Last season, the Patriots pulled off a trade with the Cardinals that sent quality pass rusher Chandler Jones to Arizona in exchange for guard Jonathan Cooper, who didn’t really pan out. Still, the move didn’t keep the Patriots from succeeding last season.
With Gilmore on board, the Patriots secondary would have two of the league’s top corners if they can get Butler back in the fold. It not, they probably miss a step without Butler. The Patriots hold all the leverage, and Butler may be on his way out of New England.