If you’re a Patriots fan and you don’t live under a rock, you’ve heard the name Malcolm Butler.
The once undrafted rookie turned Super Bowl 49 hero with a goal-line interception to seal a victory against the Seattle Seahawks is a moment engraved in NFL history forever. Literally, that’s one of those plays that will be remembered when people talk about the history of the NFL; a moment that will capture the Patriots dynasty.
After Super Bowl 49, the Patriots dropped their top 3 cornerbacks (at the time Darelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Kyle Arrington) and it seemed that the new #1 cornerback for the Patriots was… Malcolm Butler. A kid who wasn’t on the roster to start the season before. A player many confused for Colts CB Darius Butler during their playoff run. Crazy talk!
Yet, in the past two years Butler has surpassed expectations and played like a Top 10 cornerback in the league. He isn’t the best at any one thing, but his mindset to give 110% on each snap is what keeps him in discussion as a top CB in the league. So what’s the issue?
Again, unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard that Malcolm Butler is upset with his current contract situation. Because he is playing under a rookie deal, he makes jack squat. This offseason Butler is a restricted free agent, meaning teams can attempt to sign him, but the Patriots can match any contract offer he receives AND has the final say if he were to stay or leave the team. The free agent tender means this: the Patriots get to chose the worth of the player. They slapped a first-round tender on Malcolm Butler, meaning that, as long as he signs the contract, he gets paid 3.9 million dollars to play for the Patriots this year. If another team wishes to give him a long term offer, and Malcolm as well as the Patriots let him walk to this new team, they must give the Patriots their FIRST ROUND PICK this draft. Whoa, talk about a hefty load.
Essentially, it means this: The Patriots are completely in the driver’s seat. It would take an absolutely crazy team to give up 10’s of millions of dollars per year for Malcolm Butler along with a first-round caliber player in the draft this year.
Why is Butler mad? The dude wants to get paid. Honestly, you can’t blame him for being upset. He is 27 years old, in his prime in the NFL, and made 500,000 last year. That’s nice and all, until you realize he could be making somewhere around 12 million per year on another roster, if not more. For reference, Logan Ryan (the cornerback playing BEHIND Butler for New England the past few years) signed a contract for 10 million per year over the next few years. Further, a cornerback’s shelf-life and opportunity to make money is not long. To make matters worse, the Patriots just brought in another top cornerback in Stephon Gillmore and are paying him 65 million over 5 years.
Before you get mad at Butler, understand it’s a business. You likely wouldn’t be happy with such a significant paycut either when your coworker makes vastly more and you know you could make more money elsewhere. Here’s the catch: Butler doesn’t necessarily want to leave New England. He loves it here. He just wants to get paid fairly.
And you can’t get mad at New England either. Tendering Butler early in the offseason allowed them to still have a huge budget to spend and splurge on the roster like they have. It’s not like anyone is going to pursue Butler with the huge price it will cost. It’s like using coupons – when it’s right in your face why the hell wouldn’t you save the money? No-brainer.
What can be done about this? Like I said, New England is in the driver’s seat. Butler can refuse to sign the tender, which means he would not play next year. Yet, he would still be a restricted free agent next offseason, repeating the process. A restricted free agent has to play at least 8 games on the active roster in an NFL season to get out of the restricted contract. Butler can try and convince other teams to sign him, but that will be hard.
Signing a player to that much money and giving up a first rounder if another team signs him is just too much of a bold move. First rounders are precious in the NFL. A team could try and trade for him, but that doesn’t make sense on the Patriots end. If you’re the Patriots, what trade could be better than a team’s first round pick AND not having to trade away any assets on the Patriots end? Lastly, Butler can play his ass off next season and be a free agent next offseason, which is likely to happen.
The Saints have been linked as a potential candidate for Butler. They may just sign him and give up their first round pick (#11). They received the Patriots first round pick (#32) in a trade for Brandin Cooks. Still, that seems like an idiotic move. The #11 pick is likely a day-one impact starter in most drafts.
I have three notes on this dilemma that I couldn’t find a place for anywhere else.
For starters, this draft is speculated to be loaded with talented defensive players, especially at the defensive back position. This only forces more leverage into the hands of the Patriots. Why would anyone give up so much when they can likely find a starting defensive back in the draft?
Secondly, the Patriots could easily be doing this with the intent of figuring out Butler’s market value (along with saving money this year). They just did something similar with Dont’a Hightower. Playing patient and figuring out a player’s value, especially in this instance where Butler has no place to go, seems to pay off by saving every possible penny.
Lastly, this doesn’t mean that Butler won’t stay in New England. The Patriots aren’t cheap with money: they’re smart with money. There’s a difference. Although they find ways to save money wherever they can, the Patriots also have no problem giving player’s more money through bonuses when they deem it appropriate. Remember a similar situation happened with offensive lineman Logan Mankins in 2011, who was tired of being franchise tagged instead of a long-term deal.
The Patriots will likely pay Butler, they have the money to, and he’s a game-changer for their team. Loading up on defense for the end of Brady’s reign and the transition to a new QB in the next few years seems like a smart move.