If Malcolm Butler wants to play for another team in 2017, things need to get moving. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
1. There’s no question the Malcolm Butler situation is a very complex one. As it stands now, Butler hasn’t signed his first-round tender with the Patriots ($3.91 million) and he has until June 15 to do so, but if he wants to play for another team next year, he needs to get moving with the process. The process starts with him signing his tender, so the Patriots can negotiate a deal with other teams, or he could hope a team places an offer sheet on him, which teams have until April 17 to do so. This seems unlikely because teams probably wouldn’t want to give up a first-round pick and sign him to a long-term deal. He has no chance of getting traded unless he signs his tender and with teams finalizing their draft plans, they likely want to know what is going to happen with Butler beforehand. For example, if the Saints don’t acquire Butler before the draft, they likely will draft a cornerback high in the draft. If Butler doesn’t get moved before the draft, the likelihood he returns to the Patriots in 2017 increases. The 27-year-old could be dealt after the draft, but then the compensation would be for 2018 and probably not for as much as it would have been before the draft. Bottom line, if Butler wants to play outside New England next season, he should look to sign his tender soon.
2. The Patriots will be an active team this week at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. Robert Kraft is on six committees, which will meet over the course of the week. They include: media (which he chairs), NFL Network, finance, compensation, management council executive committees and chairmen’s committee. Also, Jonathan Kraft co-chairs digital media and serves on the business ventures committee. Bill Belichick was scheduled to speak Tuesday at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning when every coach has a table and is available for an hour, but Saturday night it was reported by the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe, he has a “scouting conflict” and will not be speaking. Sean Payton will be interesting on the NFC side Wednesday morning at their breakfast with how he talks about Butler. Last week the way he was talking following Butler’s visit was almost like it was a done deal he would play for the Saints. With nothing happening this past week, maybe things have changed. Lastly, with top executives from every team in the same place, the Garoppolo rumors could heat up once again even with ESPN’s Adam Schefter continuing to be adamant he won’t be traded. It’s been reported the Browns will circle back with the Patriots and make another offer this week.
3. Another big thing at the owners meetings is rule changes. Although the Patriots didn’t propose any changes for the second straight year, they still will keep an eye on how the voting shakes out. Banning leaping over the line of scrimmage when attempting to block a kick has been proposed, as well as permitting a coach to challenge any officials’ decisions, except scoring plays and turnovers. One of the more outlandish proposals came from the Redskins, who are proposing to make a touchbacks at the 20-yard line when the kick goes through the uprights opposed to the normal 25-yard line.
4. Also at the owners meetings, commissioner Roger Goodell will also hold his first formal press conference since Super Bowl week. Sure, he’s done 1-on-1’s with ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike and MMQB’s Peter King over the last week, but Wednesday will be the first real press conference he’s given in months. For once, one of his press conferences likely will not be centered around the Patriots. For the last two owners meetings, Deflategate was a primary topic and then at the Super Bowl, a big topic was the commissioner not attending the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium.
5. One of the biggest needs for the Patriots in 2017 remains the running back position in a big, physical lead back. As was shown in 2016 with the highest running play percentage since 2008 for the Patriots, the running game is extremely important to the offense. With Tom Brady turning 40 years old, it cannot all fall on his shoulders. Perhaps the Patriots take a bigger running back high in the draft, but if not and LeGarrette Blount remains unsigned, it would seem like a good idea to bring him back for another season.
6. Belichick was at Ohio State’s pro day on Thursday and one of the players he met with privately was linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Speaking to reporters afterwards, McMillan talked about the meeting and he said when he first met Belichick he was scared. “When you first meet him, you’re scared,” McMillan said. “He’s quizzing you. It’s like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it’s pretty cool. They’re real down to earth people. Really cool.” The Patriots are in need of a linebacker and with Belichick’s connection with Urban Meyer, maybe McMillan is an option.
7. Belichick’s interview with Mike Krzyzewski on Krzyzewski’s SiriusXM show, “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K” last week gave some insight on how much the Patriots coach enjoys the offseason when it comes to team-building. “I really enjoy the different phases of the season,” Belichick said. “Right now we’re in a team-building phase with free agency and then next month the draft and then all the players will be in and we’ll start. As you know, you can’t pick up where you left off last year, you’ve got to start all over again, so the kind of starting all over again process has really already begun for us. But I enjoy that, because it’s a different type of coaching than it is coaching in playoff games, where you have an experienced team and players that have been doing things for six months and your execution level is much higher than what it is when you start all over again in spring practices or the beginning of training camp. I enjoy all the different aspects of it. They’re all challenging.” It’s likely been even more special to him each of the last two seasons as he’s been able to go on the scouting trail with his two sons — Steve (safeties coach) and Brian (scouting assistant) — by his side.