In one of the strangest and most chaotic offseasons we have seen under the Belichick era in New England, there is still one huge question left unanswered. Malcolm Butler, coming off Super Bowl heroics and establishing himself as a top 10 CB in the NFL after being undrafted, is now looking for his big payday. It is hard to argue that Butler doesn’t deserve it. He is just coming off a 2nd team All-Pro season and has only made $1.5 million in his first 3 NFL seasons.
In response, Belichick has given him a temporary pay raise by offering him a 1st round tender which give him a 2017 salary of $3.91 million. This is assumed to be after contract negotiations between the two sides, for the time being, weren’t working. Now there must be plenty going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about. Multiple reports have been floating around about Butler possibly moving on and a trade to New Orleans looking likely. So what is going on between Malcolm Butler and the New England Patriots?
Reports came out this week that last season, the Patriots had offered an extension valued at $6-7 million per year. Now that does seem ridiculous for a cornerback of Butler’s caliber, but as explained by Rich Hill here, it isn’t entirely unreasonable. The Patriots can hold onto Butler for two more years by firstly offering the 1st round tender (like they already did) and then placing a franchise tag on him in 2018. The per-year value would essentially amount to that $6-7 million range. So it isn’t unreasonable for the Patriots to offer such a contract and it wouldn’t have been out of the question for Butler to accept that extension to ensure financial security. After all, any significant injury can put a dent on the hopes of big money.
Butler decided to gamble on himself and he sure played lights out last season. The problem now is that he is still a restricted free agent. If he wants to be paid like a top 10 corner, then he needs to prove that he has that market. In other words, he needs to find a team that would sign him to that kind of contract, but because of the tender placed by the Patriots, they would also need to be willing to part with a 1st round pick. That is a lot to ask so that may be the reason behind why the Patriots don’t seem to be offering Butler the contract he has been demanding yet. They feel he doesn’t have the market to demand more as a RFA.
Now this all got more convoluted when suddenly Belichick decided to, in true Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle fashion, go on his own little “treat yo self” binge with Stephon Gilmore. As Butler’s contract negotiations were in a stand still, Belichick goes out and gives Gilmore $13 million/yr. Now, Gilmore is unrestricted while Butler is restricted so that changes a lot of things on a market scale. However, I can understand how Butler may feel slighted by this. Gilmore is not as good as Butler, especially after such a terrible year he had in 2016. For Belichick, it may not be about how good either of them is and more about what the market dictates, but for Butler, it may just come down to him being paid less than a corner who is worse than him. The bigger question that arises from this is what was Belichick’s true intention here? That is a crazy amount of money, especially for Belichick’s standards, to throw at a player to play alongside Butler. This is even more surprising after seeing that getting Logan Ryan would have been a lot cheaper. Could this then mean that Belichick is expecting Butler to leave? If that is the case, then is it worth it? I know Belichick has always been about playing the market, but you are gambling a lot that Gilmore will make a good enough #1 corner when you know what you have in Malcolm Butler who could have been locked up at the same price. It is not like Butler is unrestricted anyway so why fear him leaving so much that you have to spend on another corner like that. There is also the point to note that Belichick seems very fond of Gilmore and he definitely has the tools to be a successful #1 corner. So either Belichick is really confident that he can groom Gilmore into that and replace Butler or Belichick just didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to nab Gilmore regardless of what happens with Butler.
What I am getting at is Belichick can be going at this in a wide variety of ways and we all already know that. But is it worth it? Sure, Belichick is one of the greatest football minds and he eventually figures it all out. However, he has made his fair share of mistakes in the past. To be clear, almost any mistake he has made in the past has been in drafting, rather than trading. That is why it makes much more sense to keep a known commodity like Butler on hand rather than going for a 1st round pick. As great as Belichick is, he has drafted Maroney, Meriweather, Chad Jackson, and the more recent Dominique Easley. He also missed the chance, believe it or not, to win more rings because he has taken time to address a team’s concern. After trading Deion Branch before the 2006 season, he failed to get Brady a receive that was at least average. One decent receiver could have been the difference against the Colts in that AFC Championship game which evidently became the actual Super Bowl of that season. Belichick also knows how hard it is to get a good cornerback in the NFL. Patriots had that stretch of seasons from 2010-2012 where the fans had to watch Leigh Bodden, Sterling Moore, Darius Butler, and even Julian Edelman play corner. They eventually got Talib, but he struggled to stay healthy. It wasn’t until they got Revis in 2014 that they finally got their answer and of course, they won the Super Bowl.
These concerns are only relevant if Belichick can’t get a deal done with Butler. Malcolm and his agent are now trying to get a contract out of the Saints. It doesn’t appear that the Saints want to give up more than the Patriots’ own #32 pick that the Saints got in the Cooks trade. It could very well be that Belichick was willing to pay Butler what he wanted, but was trying to see if he could get away with less. In that case, all he has to do is wait till the Saints offer something and match. If this were to happen, then every side here was just maximizing their possibilities and it will end as a win-win. On the other hand, if Butler takes this personally and insists that he moves on from the team, then that is a problem. If Belichick for some other reason trades Butler to the Saints for 32nd pick, then that is also a problem.
Essentially, this entire situation has been typical Belichick just playing the prospects. This would have been similar to how the Patriots and Dont’a Hightower handled the negotiations and I would have expected the Patriots and Malcolm Butler to eventually get a deal done. However, there is a wildcard here: the Stephon Gilmore signing and what Belichick truly has in store for him or what Butler may personally feel about the signing.
If Belichick manages to go into the 2017 NFL season with Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, then Belichick gets another trademark win. However, if this ends in Butler leaving, then I am going to have to go with labeling this a miscalculation for Belichick. Malcolm is a proven top corner and he will be a better option than Stephon Gilmore who has been on and off at best. There is also an idea that has been brought up that the Patriots can find another corner in the CB stacked 2017 draft. Again, you already have a proven All-Pro on your hands, why go after an unknown factor? Of course, I am always facing a risk by questioning Belichick. It could very well end up being that Butler leaves and Cyrus Jones out of nowhere becomes an All-Pro corner with Patriots winning the Super Bowl again.