Everyone's in wait-and-see mode with Malcolm Butler. We're waiting to see whether or not he'll end up in New Orleans.
Butler visited with the Saints last week. Reports suggest there's a rift between the 27-year-old cornerback and the Patriots, which is understandable. He's a Super Bowl hero. His team just signed another cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, to a five-year, $65 million deal with $40 million guaranteed after they offered Butler — a restricted free agent — a first-round tender worth $3.91 million.
As I write this, Butler is still a Patriot. Whether or not that changes is completely up to Bill Belichick. And I don't see why he'd let Butler get away, given all the leverage he owns over both Butler and the Saints.
If we've learned anything from Belichick over the years, it's that football is a business and he's going to treat it as such.
Belichick isn't in the business of getting caught up in feelings. He puts those aside to make the best business decision, or as he usually describes it, "to do what's best for the team."
Put Butler's feelings aside for a minute and tell me what's best for the New England Patriots in 2017: Butler playing for the Patriots, or Butler playing somewhere else?
I don't think you need me to actually answer that for you.
Under the rules of restricted free agency, and the first-round tender that the Patriots offered him, the only way Butler should be playing somewhere else in 2017 is if that other team gets completely nuts. And for the sake of this argument, and because they seem to be the only other team involved, we'll call that other team the Saints.
Butler visited New Orleans last week. He's upset with the Patriots. The Saints reportedly love him. All of that is well and good. There's just one problem.
The Patriots still own Butler's rights.
And for that to change, the Saints and Butler would not only have to agree on a multiyear, big-money deal, but the Saints would also — by rule — have to send their first-round pick to New England, which is No. 11 overall.
Keep in mind that the Patriots can match any offer the Saints make to Butler. Or, if a new contract is in place, the two teams can negotiate a trade that does not include a draft pick as high as No. 11 overall.
But this is where it gets simple for me. If the rules state that New Orleans has to give up No. 11 overall in order to acquire Butler, then you don't settle for anything less, if you're Belichick.
And I'm not buying the idea that there was a "placeholder" agreement when the Saints accepted the No. 32 overall pick for Brandin Cooks a few weeks ago. You don't trade a player like Cooks with the "hope" that you can eventually agree on a contract with Butler. I'm sorry, that's just not how this thing works.
If I'm Belichick, there are two options here, and two options only: I either send Butler to the Saints for No. 11 overall, or he plays for me at a discounted rate of $3.91 million in 2017.
Is that fair to Butler? Not at all. But it's a restricted free-agent rule that the Patriots would be taking full advantage of.
Butler might not be happy. But for an undrafted free agent that Belichick picked up off the street, I find it hard to believe he wouldn't show up next season for a quick $4 million. And if he wants to make much more than that next offseason, then I also find it hard to believe he wouldn't show up and work his behind off.
And since I don't see the Saints giving up No. 11 overall, I don't see any reason why Belichick should let Butler get away.
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