Not long ago, the Patriots reportedly were considering adding cornerback Malcolm Butler to the trade package that brought receiver Brandin Cooks from New Orleans to New England. It didn’t happen, due in large part to the fact that Cooks was due to earn a $780,000 roster bonus last Monday, leaving precious little time to piece everything together.
The process of piecing everything together has continued beyond the completion of the Cooks trade, with the Saints hosting Butler on Thursday and reportedly putting the parameters of a long-term deal in place. But, supposedly, this doesn’t mean that the Patriots will trade Butler to the Saints.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media suggests that the Patriots have had no talks with the Saints on a possible Butler trade, and that the Patriots won’t until he signs his restricted free agency tender. While there’s no reason to doubt the fact that someone in the know is telling this to Rapoport, it feels like an effort to avoid any claim that the Patriots didn’t apply the RFA tender to Butler with a good-faith intention to employ him for 2017 at the amount of the tender offer. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has shown extreme sensitivity to this requirement of the labor deal in the past, and Belichick likely is tiptoeing on those same eggshells now.
So it all has to happen discreetly, with the Saints and Patriots winking and nodding and Butler signing the RFA tender knowing that the Patriots will follow through on a trade for something less than the 11th overall pick in the draft, which is what they’d get if the Saints sign Butler to an offer sheet the Patriots don’t match.
It makes sense for the Saints to offer the No. 32 pick in round one, obtained from the Patriots for Cooks, to the Patriots for Butler. It makes no sense for the Saints to send the No. 11 pick to the Patriots for Butler. Before doing that, the Saints should work out a deal with one of the teams near the bottom of round one, with the understanding being that one of those teams would sign Butler to an offer sheet that the Patriots wouldn’t match, acquire Butler for the low first-round pick, and then trade Butler plus something more to the Saints for the No. 11 pick. The Saints would still lose the No. 11 pick, but they’d get something in return from a team in the high 20s/low 30s that slides up nearly 20 spots in round one.
Whatever the Saints would get via that approach, they’d end up with something more than simply signing Butler to an offer sheet and giving up the No. 11 pick. Which underscores the fact that it makes no sense to sign Butler to an offer sheet.
Alternatively, the Saints and Patriots can simply work out a trade for Butler quietly and carefully, while telling anyone in the media who’ll listen that they aren’t and won’t be talking about a trade. Our guess is that this is what’s exactly going on.