While the Patriots may have indeed considered the possibility of trading cornerback Malcolm Butler to the Saints after signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore, that consideration never actually became action for one very important reason: Butler hasn’t signed his restricted free agency tender.
Coach Bill Belichick historically has had a high level of sensitivity regarding trade discussions involving a player who is subject to a tender offer that has not yet been signed. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Butler’s decision not to sign his tender kept the Patriots and Saints from seriously exploring the prospect of adding Butler to the deal.
Eight years ago, Belichick made clear his disdain for discussing trades of players who have not yet signed tender offers, regarding the possibility of acquiring former-and-present Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.
“There’s no trade talks going on with Carolina,” Belichick said at the time. “They don’t have a signed contract. They can’t talk about trading a player that isn’t signed.”
When it comes to the playing rules, Belichick has a habit of interpreting and applying them aggressively. When it comes to CBA provisions regarding tender offers, Belichick has been very careful not to give the NFL Players Association any ammunition for arguing that the tender was not made with a good-faith intention to employe the player at the amount of the tender for the upcoming season.
Of course, if Butler were to sign the tender offer, he could then be traded. But he wants a long-term deal. Apparently, Butler’s camp isn’t willing (or able) to accept the difference between a player who hits the market unfettered and a player who still has one year to play before becoming an unrestricted free agent. The biggest money goes only to truly unrestricted free agents, or to franchise-tagged players who parlay the amount of the tag (and the promise of a 20-percent raise the following year) into a long-term deal. Butler won’t be getting Gilmore or A.J. Bouye money for at least a year. And he likely won’t be getting it from the Patriots, given the investment they have made in Gilmore.