The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.
We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and in our opinion the 2nd most imperative to re-sign is cornerback Malcolm Butler.
The Patriots and Butler will forever be linked by the one play in Super Bowl XLIX where he intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line and sealed the win for the Patriots. He was an UDFA out of West Alabama but we saw all that summer in training camp that he was a tenacious, physical defender who made plays every time he got on the field.
That earned him a roster spot but the rookie corner didn’t see the field much because the Pats in 2014 had Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. But he earned the coaches’ trust and when the Super Bowl was on the line, they didn’t hesitate to put him in there, having practiced the specific play the Seahawks would run. We know the rest.
Determined not to be known as a one-play wonder, Butler became a starter in 2015 with Revis and Browner now having moved on. He became the starter at left corner and turned in a very solid 2015. This season, he was easily the Patriots best and most-trusted corner and earned Pro Bowl and 2nd Team All-Pro honors.
Frequently matched up with an opponent’s best wide receiver, Butler proved that he was no flash in the pan and has turned into an excellent cornerback. Not the biggest guy at 5’11, 190-pounds, he more than makes up for it with a physical, aggressive style where he broke up 13 passes between the regular and postseason.
He allowed fewer than 20 yards receiving in seven of the Patriots 19 games this season. Now it is no longer a question of if he’ll get paid, but how much? Butler is a restricted free agent in 2017 and is in line to get a nice payday.
Why Butler Will Return: The Patriots will most likely put a 1st round tender on Butler, being a restricted free agent. What does that mean? If a team signs Butler to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have the option of either matching the offer or receiving that team’s first round draft choice.
The first-round tender will guarantee a salary this season of about $4 million and give the Patriots the opportunity to sign the 26-year old to a long-term deal. PatsFans.com salary cap guru Miguel Benzan (@Patscap), worked out a likely scenario where the Patriots can lock up Butler for the next five years for about $52,500,000.
That would place him among the top 8-9 highest paid cornerbacks in the league. Butler has been a bargain for the Patriots thus far in his career, earning around $2 million in his first three years. His salary will double that in 2017 alone and then he’ll be ready to truly cash in 2018.
With a first-round tender, will another team sign him to an offer sheet? While conventional wisdom says no…it will bear watching. Unlike their unrestricted free agents, the Patriots have the advantage here of getting either a first round pick or being able to match any offer.
With unrestricted free agent cornerback Logan Ryan expected to draw big interest and probably signing elsewhere, it will be imperative for the Patriots to keep Butler in the fold.
Why Butler Won’t Return: Butler is a proven, battle-tested cornerback playing one of the toughest positions in a league where the passing game is the king. A two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s proven that he’s got what it takes when the game is on the line.
The Patriots tried to lock him up with an extension during the 2016 season it has been reported. But according to those same reports, he turned them down.
While unlikely, it is possible that there will be a team that wants him bad enough to sign him to an offer big enough for the Patriots to wash their hands and wish him well. We’ve seen teams do some crazy things in free agency, so this wouldn’t exactly be uncharted waters.
The caveat is that whatever team signs him would have to pony up their first-round draft pick in return.
Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Butler. He’s been in their system for three years and has the coaches’ trust. While he can be beaten on occasion, he’s shown that he has a short memory and will keep that aggressive, tenacious style on every play. He never takes a play off, is very good in run support and at the age of 26 is in the prime of his NFL career. He’s been durable and hasn’t missed any practice or game time, something that is important to every team.
With the Patriots having the advantage of Butler being a restricted free agent, they have the advantage of either matching or taking a draft pick. In this case, a first round tender is what we expect the Patriots to place on him. With that in mind, the chances of Butler returning increase significantly. However, it would be in both the team’s and Butler’s best interest to work out a long-term deal sooner rather than later.
The only sticking point should be the guaranteed money. That is something that can be worked out and the above-mentioned scenario by @Patscap has the particulars down well in a deal that may work for both parties.
Butler, because he is a restricted free agent should return for at least the 2017 season. The chances of seeing him in uniform when training camp begins are better than 75 percent in our opinion.
Posted Under: 2017 Free Agency
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season 2017 free agency 2017 Super Bowl Bill Belichick Logan Ryan Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots cornerbacks Patriots free agents Patriots salary cap