Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler is in New Orleans visiting with the Saints. Normally this wouldn’t be super newsworthy with the NFL in the midst of free agency. But Butler is not a free agent, but a restricted free agent. That means he is free to sign with another team, but his current team, the New England Patriots, have the right to match the offer.
Since the star cornerback is a restricted free agent, New England placed a first-round tender on him. That means any team that signs Butler has to give up a first-round pick if the Patriots didn’t match the offer sheet that another team gave the cornerback.
If he plays for the Patriots this season and signs his free-agent tender, Butler will make $3.91 million in 2017. That means that if the Saints sign Butler to an offer sheet, New England will get New Orleans’ 11th overall pick.
The Saints can also work out the details for a long-term deal with Butler and let the two teams work out a trade after he signs his tender. That trade could include players, draft picks or both.
New Orleans would do better to go the second route and not sign Butler to a long-term deal and watch the Patriots get the No. 11 pick. The Patriots already traded their No. 32 pick to the Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
New England might get its first-round pick back in a trade with the Saints. It seems unlikely that the Patriots would let Butler go for anything less after putting a first-round tender on him.
Butler’s name did come up during the Cooks trade, but he hadn’t signed his tender so he wasn’t under contract and couldn’t be traded. This just might be a long way around to get the deal both teams might have wanted in the first place.
New Orleans could decide also not to work a deal for Butler. The upcoming draft is deep in secondary players and a few potentially great players that can be selected.
Unlike drafted players, the Saints know what they are getting with Butler: a young player who has been named to the Pro Bowl and Second Team All-Pro. He brings two Super Bowl rings to New Orleans with him.
On the flipside, players the Patriots have moved on from generally don’t fare well in their next stop. New Orleans dealing for Butler could end up not being worth the price the team paid for him.
One more thing for the Saints to think about is Super Bowl LI. Butler struggled in coverage against the Atlanta Falcons. On one play, Butler got juked out of his cleats as a Falcons receiver blew past him.
He committed a pass-interference penalty in the game and played just okay enough not to stink the place up. If the Patriots hadn’t come back to win, Butler’s play might have ended up as a bigger talking point after the game.
New Orleans plays Atlanta twice a year and can’t afford to bring in a liability for two games a season. Butler could have just had an off day during the Super Bowl. It happens to you and me and of course happens to the best athletes in the world. But if I was working with the Saints, I would watch the tape of Super Bowl closely. Then I would ask Butler about the game and weigh what he says.
The Saints must be sure he is worth the cost of draft picks, players and salary cap. New Orleans can’t mess up another secondary move after the Jairus Byrd signing failed miserably.