By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Just what in the world is going on with Malcolm Butler?
One thing that everyone can agree upon as of Thursday afternoon is that the restricted free agent cornerback is in New Orleans meeting with the Saints. He’s reportedly been there since Wednesday and had a dinner with team representatives that apparently went well.
It certainly appears that a Butler trade between the Patriots and Saints is on the horizon, but it’s unclear how long it could take to happen. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted on Thursday afternoon that Butler is still meeting with the Saints and that there is “momentum toward finalizing a deal before he leaves,” suggesting that the trade could be done in a matter of hours.
However, ESPN’s Dianna Russini tweeted just eight minutes later that one of her Patriots sources used the word “patience” when addressing her attempts to get more information on the Butler situation. She quickly followed up that “it doesn’t sound like there is any urgency to get something done” between the Patriots and Saints.
Russini appears very well-plugged into the Patriots organization; she was the first to break the news about the Brandin Cooks trade. But Rapoport is one of the most trusted NFL reporters in the business and is plugged in all over the league. To say the least, it has to raise eyebrows that two reports that suggest two different timelines on a potential Patriots-Saints deal came out within minutes of each other.
The NFL calendar certainly gives Butler and the Patriots good reason to show patience. The cornerback has until April 21 to sign his first-round free-agent tender, which he must do for the Patriots to be able to trade him. The NFL Draft is not until April 27; it’s likely that the Patriots would get the 32nd overall pick back from the Saints in a Butler trade – essentially completing a Butler-for-Cooks swap.
It’s possible that Rapoport meant a contract extension for Butler with the Saints when he said they were working on “finalizing a deal.” This could be a mistake for Butler, who would almost certainly make more money on a deal as an unrestricted free agent than he would make on an extension with either the Saints or the Patriots. The Saints have about $14 million of cap space for 2017, according to Spotrac, so they’d be scraping the ceiling if they gave Butler a deal similar to that of Stephon Gilmore’s with the Patriots if they signed Butler to a big-money contract. It’s possible, but not probable at this point.
If Butler ultimately takes a below-market deal to play for New Orleans, it would be a sure sign that he simply wanted out of New England.
It may not get any more clear what’s going on with Butler, the Saints, and the Patriots before a deal gets made (or canceled entirely). Based on the reports, it seems that the Saints are more eager to get a Butler deal done than the Patriots, who still hold most of the leverage over Butler in the first place. Whatever happens from here, we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.