Vontaze Burfict’s contract situation could provide a template for the Patriots and Malcolm Butler. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)
There’s been plenty of talk about what it might take for the Patriots to sign Malcolm Butler to a long-term deal, but both the team and the cornerback might be able to draw on a contract that the Bengals crafted with Vontaze Burfict back in 2014 as a template to keep the cornerback around New England for the foreseeable future.
According to salary cap expert Joel Corry, the Burfict deal could serve as a template for the Patriots and the restricted free agent: in the end, Burfict have up two unrestricted years, but managed to get a handsome payday (four years, $20.05 million) and some stability. Meanwhile, Cincinnati was able to extend a key portion of its defense for another three years.
Burfict was an undrafted free agent coming out of Arizona State in 2012, but two really good years ended up bringing the team and the player together on a new deal. Prior to the start of the final season of his contract, the Bengals signed Burfict — like Butler, an undrafted free agent who was a restricted free agent — to a three-year extension. Cincinnati and Burfict agreed to the deal despite the fact that the occasionally controversial linebacker still had a year left on his deal, one that would have paid him $570,000. (For the record, Butler is slated to make $600,000 in base salary for the 2016 season.)
“Burfict gave up two unrestricted free agent years,” explained Corry. “The easiest way for a deal is for the agent to accept that the team controls rights for at least one additional year with the restricted free-agent tender and focus on the value of the UFA years.”
While the players and situations are different, the point is the same: In the end, the team and the player ended up giving something. As a result, both sides reached a fair and equitable deal, the best possible outcome for both sides.
Of course, the Patriots do have some history in this department — Miguel Benzan of Patscap.com reminds us that the team extended punter Ryan Allen after his first two seasons in the NFL. Allen, who was also undrafted, got a new contract last offseason, a three-year deal, which was agreed to a full year before he would have been eligible for UFA status.
But to Corry’s point, the team still holds the hammer when it comes to Butler. The Patriots could let him play things out next year and then place a first-round tender on him next offseason as a way to keep him around.
“To be safe, Pats should put a first-round tender on Butler in 2017,” suggests Corry. “The chances of a team signing him to an offer sheet with a first-round pick as compensation are remote. A second-round tender might even be sufficient, because teams are reluctant to give up a high pick to sign restricted free agents.”
If the Patriots do put a first-round tender on Butler, Benzan thinks that a team with cap room in abundance could still take a shot at the corner, provided that pick might come near the end of the first round.
“If I were an AFC contender with lots of cap room — maybe Jacksonville or Oakland — and was drafting in the bottom half of the first round, and if the Patriots franchise tag someone like Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard or Dont’a Hightower, I would think long and hard about signing Butler to a front-loaded deal with a large 2017 roster bonus to either take Butler away from another AFC contender or force the Pats to match the offer,” Benzan said. “Yes, draft picks are cheaper than free agents. But when you have so much cap space, you can afford to occasionally not have cheap talent.”