Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler had been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching , it begs the question: will New England look to trade their former Super Bowl hero?
Before we discuss the logic of such a move, let’s review why the Patriots and Butler find themselves in this situation in the first place. The former undrafted free agent has proven himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL over the past two years, earning a Pro Bowl spot in 2015 and a second-team All-Pro nod in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the underpaid cornerback requested a raise prior to last season, although the Patriots predictably made him play on his $600K salary. With the cornerback set to hit restricted free agency, the Patriots slapped a first-round tender on him early in the offseason.
Instead of signing Butler to a lucrative extension, the Patriots decided to ink free agent corner Stephon Gilmore to the most expensive contract for a defensive player in team history. Predictably, Butler was “extremely frustrated” by this move. Subsequent reports indicated that the team was shopping Butler to New Orleans, and the player’s agent was apparently asking front offices for a Gilmore-type contract (around $14MM annually). While there seemed to be some momentum towards a deal with the Saints, talks ultimately died, and Butler eventually signed his tender.
With reports indicating that the cornerback was likely going to leave New England following the season, some assumed that the Patriots would ride out the season with a deadly duo of Butler and Gilmore. However, coach Bill Belichick has never really operated under that logic. Last year, we saw the team trade impending free agents Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Previously, the front office dealt Deion Branch and Richard Seymour, who were also set to hit free agency. In all these cases, the trades arguably hurt New England’s on-field product, which only emphasizes why Belichick isn’t afraid to trade a player before he’s set to walk. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported back in April that a trade was still possible, although unlikely. Reports also indicated that the team has no interest in franchising the defensive back.
Through the first three games of the season, the cornerback hasn’t done much to boost his free agent stock. After playing nearly all of his team’s snaps in 2016, he found himself on the bench during the beginning of the Patriots’ Week 2 contest. He’s compiled nine tackles and one pass defended this year, and Pro Football Focus ranks him 37th among 109 qualified cornerbacks.
Even if he has taken a slight step back this season, the Patriots could still receive some type of draft-pick compensation for Butler. Sure, he is an impending free agent in pursuit of a huge payday, but any acquiring team would have the leverage of a franchise tag.
So that leads back to the original question: will the Patriots trade Malcolm Butler prior to the trade deadline? Vote below, and let us know what you think in the comment section.
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