The New Orleans Saints have been linked to disgruntled Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. But what would it take to get a trade done?
The Patriots extended a first-round tender to former UDFA Malcolm Butler, meaning any team that signs him straight up would do so at the cost of a first-round pick. It also means that his cap hit for 2017 will be about $4M.
Butler and his camp are reportedly frustrated with the way the Patriots handled his free agency. The days of RFA are coming to an end, as all drafted rookie deals are at their base four years long. So long as the player manages to accrue all four seasons in this time (is on the roster for at least six games on the year), he is an UFA at the end of his contract.
Butler, on the other hand, was an UDFA, and has accrued only three seasons in the league. He reportedly asked that Belichick treat him as an UFA, but was turned down. That will cost him a good deal of money in 2017. And it reportedly soured Butler to the Pats organization.
Word is that Butler’s agent is calling teams to convince them to sign him to a tender. But teams are understandably skeptical: this is a deep CB draft class, and Butler would cost not only cap space but a first-round pick.
So what does this mean for the Saints?
The Saints badly need veteran help in the secondary. The CBs on their roster are riddled with questionmarks. And even though this draft is deep at the position, the team would like to have some experienced players to fall back on.
Saints have no reason to sign Butler to an offer sheet.
There have been reports that the Saints may trade the Patriots back their first-round pick for Butler. I doubt they’ll need to do this, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Still, the very possibility of the trade seems to eliminate any chance that the Saints try to sign Butler to an offer sheet. If they did, not only would they still lose that first-round pick but they’d have to pay Butler more than the $4M he’s soon to be owed in 2017. They would make Butler a happy man. But it would not help their organization too well.
In a trade, a first-round pick is likely too high of an asking price.
Consider that Brandin Cooks landed the 32nd pick, as well as a negligible pick swap in the mid-rounds. Cooks is only owed about $1.5M to the Patriots in 2017, and they control his rights in 2018.
Butler, on the other hand, is owed $4M in 2017 and will be an UFA in 2018. A first-round pick for a one-year rental is not a solid option. And at Cooks’ market value, a straight-up trade for him and Butler makes little sense. That’s what a 1st-for-Butler trade would look like, ultimately.
This is a deep draft at CB. And while a rookie corner isn’t going to come in an play at Butler’s level in his first or even second year, his cap hit would be much lower. Butler will be due a pay-day in 2018. A 2017 draft pick won’t break the bank until 2021, and that’s assuming they put together the four necessary accrued seasons.
A second-round pick is an easier pill to swallow in a trade.
The Saints badly need established, healthy players in their secondary, and Butler is one of the few remaining. The Rams are reportedly looking to move Trumaine Johnson, but they’ve been asking for two first-round picks. Johnson is on a one-year deal worth $16.7M. Johnson may be a better player than Butler, but not by much. The Saints would be better off with Butler.
If the Saints were to trade Butler for a second-round pick, they’d essentially have traded Cooks for Butler and two pick-swaps. Not a bad haul for a disgruntled player, in my opinion.
But that doesn’t mean the Saints should necessarily pull the trigger. There are free agent CBs still on the market. None of Butler’s caliber, but that 2nd round pick could land them a cheaper option than Butler.
There are two CBs I’d especially like to see the Saints sign.
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Both players the Saints know very well.
One, Brandon Browner. He’s still a free agent, looking to make it back into the league.
Don’t worry—I’m kidding.
One, Sterling Moore. The Saints signed Moore just before the 2016 regular season, and injuries pushed him into the starting lineup. Moore went on to have a great season. He held his own against Julio Jones and OBJ, and was a consistent presence throughout the year. He’ll be a more expensive add this time around, but the Saints need to make it happen.
The other name, Alterraun Vernon. The recently released CB out of Tampa Bay didn’t have his best season in 2016, but he was solid. He wouldn’t have been released if not for his cap hit and the emergence of Vernon Hargreaves III. He’s only 28 and can still hold his own on the field. With the Saints badly in search of depth, Vernon could come in and even compete for a starting job.
But all this discussion begs a simple question:
Why did the Saints not pursue a top-tier CB in free agency?
Sean Payton expressed optimism about the depth of CB in the draft. And they clearly have some faith that P.J. Williams and Delvin Breaux can return to form from their injuries. But entering the season with question-marks is what’s led to three consecutive 7-9 seasons.
If the Saints do trade for Butler, they’ll want to sign him to an extension. And if they do that, they’ll have lost a high draft pick on a position they could have filled just by throwing money at A.J. Bouye, Logan Ryan or Stephone Gilmore.
Maybe they won’t trade for Butler. At this point, I’d be happy with that decision so long as they’re able to bring back Moore and either Vernon or possibly Morris Claiborne. Assuming Claiborne’s price tag is low. Maybe a one-year deal would work for the oft-injured CB.
A trade for Butler and an extension wouldn’t be a bad thing for this franchise. But it would beg the question, why not just sign one of the other prospects? It’s not that the Saints didn’t land any of those elite CBs, but there were no reports of them even pursuing. I’d understand that if they didn’t want to spend big money on a single CB signing. But that’s exactly what Butler would be.
Anyway. Butler is a great player, and I won’t be sad to see him in black and gold. I just want our offseason to be well thought-out.