Malcolm Butler appears destined for New Orleans. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
Restricted free agent Malcolm Butler visited with the Saints on Wednesday and Thursday, and according to coach Sean Payton, the visit went well.
So well that Payton was comfortable talking about the 27-year-old on Xtra 360 radio in San Diego on Friday morning.
“You know, coming out of a small town in Mississippi and through junior college and into West Alabama, it’s pretty amazing,” Payton said courtesy of ESPN.com. “And the first three years he’s had in this league, shoot, he’s had a tremendous amount of success, winning two Super Bowls in three years and being a big part of a team that’s accomplished a lot. So I’d say he’s humble, but when you watch the tape, he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
Payton added: “We’ve practiced with New England now in that three-year time frame twice, so there’s a lot of additional practice tape that we have a chance to look closely at. And I’m sure Bill [Belichick] and his staff were the same way when evaluating [Brandin] Cooks.”
Butler is a restricted free agent, not an unrestricted free agent, which is where things get tricky.
Since the Patriots gave him the first-round tender, he’s on the books for $3.91 million in 2017 once he signs the deal and if another team places an offer sheet on him and the Patriots do not match, the Patriots get that team’s first-round pick in return. In the Saints’ case it would be the No. 11 overall pick. New Orleans appears hesitant to do that, but probably would be willing to part ways with their No. 32 pick, which they got from New England in the Brandin Cooks trade.
The way to get to that point would be working out a trade after Butler agrees to sign his tender offer. Given the relationship between Bill Belichick and Payton, this could happen. It’s also worth noting this could have came up last week in the Cooks trade talks and some agreement could have already been made, as Butler was rumored to be included in the deal, but ultimately wasn’t. Once Butler gets to the Saints, it’s likely he will get a long-term deal.
Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee Butler leaves New England because the Patriots hold all the leverage and it’s worth noting Mike Lombardi believes the cornerback is staying put. But, things have gone pretty far with the Saints and Butler has let his feelings be known that he’s open to joining the Saints. Because of both things, it’s pretty hard to imagine the cornerback will return to the Patriots.
Also, it’s very unusual for a coach to discuss a player after just a free agent visit unless he’s pretty certain that player ultimately is going to join the team. Even the Saints’ team Twitter account was getting involved on Thursday.
As the old saying goes, when there’s smoke there’s fire, and this certainly seems like a case of it being just a matter of time before Butler is with the Saints.
Don’t forget, the Patriots and Saints meet in New Orleans this season, which will be interesting.