BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are in danger of losing linebacker Dont’a Hightower to unrestricted free agency. This has stoked fears that they may also lose cornerback Malcolm Butler, who is set to become a restricted free agent when the league year begins on March 9 at 4 p.m..

While it’s less likely that Butler would depart this offseason, it’s not impossible. But a new report from ESPN’s Mike Reiss suggests that the Patriots and Butler are closer to a contract extension that it appears. Reiss’ “read on the situation” is that the two sides “got pretty far down the line” on agreeing to an extension last offseason before talks broke off.

Reiss noted that the Patriots are likely to offer Butler a first-round tender worth $4 million before he reaches restricted free agency. This would require any team that signs Butler to an offer sheet to send the Patriots their first-round pick if the Pats didn’t match the offer.

A first-round pick on top of a lucrative long-term contract would be a steep price to pay for Butler’s services and it’s why RFA deals are relatively rare. But considering Butler’s talent, and the scarcity of high-end cornerbacks around the league, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a corner-needy team would make such a move.

The Patriots have over $60 million in cap space to work with, and Butler has never held out or gone out of his way to comment publicly on his contract. He also has not missed a game since the start of the 2015 season while continuing to improve and emerge as one of the league’s best cornerbacks. If any Patriot deserves to be rewarded with a deal, it’s Butler.


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