We have a Malcolm Butler update for you — sort of.
During the NFL’s annual league meetings this week in Phoenix, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft gave an update on the situation with the restricted free agent cornerback who remains in limbo. Pinch-hitting for head coach Bill Belichick, who plans to skip Tuesday’s coaches breakfast for scouting purposes, Kraft told the media that he for one would like to see things work out with the Super Bowl hero remaining in Foxborough.
“I hope he is with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us,” Kraft said, via CSNNE. “I have a great affection for him. He actually was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team. But there are a lot of people involved in that — on both sides.”
Kraft added that it was not the Patriots’ intention to trade him.
If you’ve followed along with this winding story, Butler felt shunned when the Patriots went outside the building to pay top dollar for unrestricted free-agent corner Stephon Gilmore — money Butler assumed would be earmarked to keep him. Would the Patriots pay to keep two corners long term for big bucks? Not likely.
Since then, the Patriots have not talked extension with Butler, who has gone off to visit the New Orleans Saints. And things have gone far along that road that Saints head coach Sean Payton actually spoke with the AP about Butler, which is not considered tampering, but it is something Payton seldom does.
The Patriots and Saints already worked out one trade for Brandin Cooks, and it was believed that Butler’s name surfaced in those talks. But because Butler had not yet signed his tender offer, he could not be included in the deal.
Butler might be holding things up by not signing that tender (and he can continue to do so by waiting things out until after the NFL draft, as late as July 15 before fines start kicking in). But the Saints are also dragging their feet on offering Cooks an offer sheet — one the Patriots would have first right of refusal on. If they failed to match the contract terms, the Patriots would get the higher of the Saints’ two first-round picks (No. 11 overall) in return.
The Saints have until April 21 to work out a deal, and the Patriots would have five days to match. A trade could be worked out for something less than the 11th pick, but so far there has been nothing finalized and Kraft’s words suggest that trading him isn’t the Patriots’ first hope.
In theory, Butler could sign his $3.91 million tender and remain in New England for this season. Would he be happy? Not likely. But the Patriots would, for now. They’d have one of the top CB duos in the NFL, with Butler and Gilmore, which would fit in with their aggressive push to win another Super Bowl while Tom Brady remains near the top of his game, even as he approaches 40.
How will this end? Only Belichick and Payton perhaps know, and right now the details are sketchy. So while Kraft can say he hopes Butler stays, there’s still a high likelihood that a move is made, with draft pick(s) coming back to the Patriots.
After all, for a guy with no draft choices until Round 3, Belichick — a guy who just won his fifth Super Bowl with the team — is spending a lot of time at pro days looking at highly rated college players.
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