Duron Harmon is awaiting word on where Malcolm Butler will play in 2017, just like everyone else.
Harmon will return to the New England Patriots after signing a four-year, $17 million contract as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but he’ll do so with some new starting secondary mates.
Butler, a restricted free agent, visited the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday and Thursday, and the cornerback could be moved after some complicated logistics are worked out. Harmon is hoping for the best for Butler, who has been his teammate since 2014.
“I love Malcolm,” Harmon said Friday in a conference call. “I love being his teammate, what he brings to the football field, what he brings to the locker room. I would love being his teammate, but it’s a business more than anything. I know people got to do what’s best for them, so I’m just rooting on him that he gets to do whatever he feels is best for him.”
Butler would play on a $3.91 million first-round tender if he returns to the Patriots. If Butler is moved to the Saints, it likely would come with a long-term contract.
Harmon knows he won’t play with Logan Ryan, the Patriots’ other starting cornerback in 2016, this upcoming season. Ryan signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
This season will mark the first that Harmon and Ryan haven’t been teammates since 2008. Harmon and Ryan played four years together at Rutgers before the Patriots picked them both in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
“We definitely kept in contact the whole time, just telling me who was interested, some offers,” Harmon said. “We have a group chat, me, Dev (Devin McCourty), Log and (Detroit Lions and former Patriots safety) Tavon Wilson. We were all just going back and forth, sharing our experiences, what we were thinking, what places liked who.
“It was cool, just to go through that with him. I’ve been through a lot of situations with him, coming through college, being a freshman in college, going through the draft together. We really shared a lot of special moments together, and that’s why he’s one of my best friends.
“It’s definitely going to be tough not having him around. We’ve been together literally for eight years. He’s someone I’ve really grown close to, but he had to make the best decision for his family, and I know he’s going to do well down there. I’m really excited to see what he has in store for the season.”
The Patriots’ projected starting secondary, if Butler doesn’t return, is free-agent signee Stephon Gilmore and returnee Eric Rowe at cornerback, and McCourty and Patrick Chung at safety. Harmon projects to be the Patriots’ top nickel defensive back for the second consecutive season.
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