The Saints had wanted to obtain cornerback Malcolm Butler as part of the trade that sent receiver Brandin Cooks to New England, but the deal was too complicated to finalize quickly — especially with Cooks due to earn a $781,599 roster bonus on Monday.
The Saints are still courting Butler, and the process will continue with the Saints negotiating a contract with him.
Given the rules of restricted free agency, the Saints are permitted to negotiate with Butler, and eventually to sign him to an offer sheet. If the Patriots don’t match the offer within five days, the Patriots would get New Orleans’ first-round pick in the draft.
But the Saints surely don’t want to surrender the 11th overall pick in the draft for Butler. So if the Saints and Butler can strike a fair deal based on the fact that he’s currently not on the open market and wouldn’t be for a year, the Saints can then approach the Patriots and make an offer for something less than a first-round pick, subject to Butler signing the restricted free agency tender. If the Saints and Patriots reach an understanding, Butler would sign the tender, and the Patriots would trade him.
It needs to happen precisely that way because Patriots coach Bill Belichick is sensitive (some would say unreasonably) to the CBA rules regarding players to whom tender offers have been extended. A player can’t be tendered as a tool for trading him, and Belichick consistently refuses to enter into trade discussions about players who have not signed their tender offers.
Of course, there will be a point at which the Patriots and Saints will need to do some winking and nodding, so that the planets can properly align once Butler has signed the tender. But if the Saints are the ones who initiate the trade talks, Belichick will be more comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable) about working out a tentative trade before Butler signs the tender offer.
So, to summarize: (1) Saints negotiate with Butler; (2) if a tentative deal is reached, Saints approach Patriots; (3) if a tentative trade is reached, Butler signs tender; (4) Patriots sign Butler to multi-year deal and trade him or Patriots trade him and Saints sign him to multi-year deal.