Malcolm Butler and the New England Patriots are in a sticky situation.
Butler reportedly wants a new contract, but the Patriots hold all the leverage in any potential discussions. Butler made the Pro Bowl after his breakout 2015 campaign, but he’s due just $600,000 in 2016 because he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He’s set to hit free agency after this upcoming season, but he’ll be a restricted free agent, which further complicates matters for the Patriots cornerback. Butler clearly is worth more than $600,000, but unless the Patriots decide to be nice and up his contract in good faith, there’s no reason to pay him market value now.
The Patriots will have the option to give Butler a first-, second- or original-round tender after the season. This offseason, a first-round qualifying offer was a one-year deal worth $3.635 million, a second-round tender was worth $2.553 million and an original-round offer was worth $1.671 million.
If the Patriots give Butler a first-round tender, another team could sign him to an offer sheet worth any amount over any number of years. The Patriots would then have the right of first refusal. If they elected not to match the offer sheet, the other club would have to give the Patriots a first-round pick for Butler’s services. If the Patriots chose to match, they would have to give him the contract offered by the other team. If the Patriots gave Butler a second-round tender, they would receive a second-round pick, and since Butler was an undrafted free agent, a team would not have to give up compensation if he was given an original-round tender.
If Butler plays in 2016 like he did in 2015, it would be logical give him a first-round tender, and there’s a good chance another team would sign him to an offer sheet. In a worst-case scenario, another team signs him to an offer sheet worth more than the Patriots are willing to pay, and New England would receive a first-round pick. If another team didn’t sign Butler to an offer sheet, he would be on the Patriots’ books for over $3.635 million in 2017 and then would hit unrestricted free agency after that season if he and New England couldn’t come to terms on an extension.
The Patriots could elect to extend Butler before the 2016 season, but they would be crazy to sign him to anything close to a market-value deal. And if Butler wants to bet on himself, he would be nuts to agree to a below-market deal after seeing how much Josh Norman (five years, $75 million) and Janoris Jenkins (five years, $62.5 million) pulled in as free agents this offseason.
The Patriots were smart to lock up tight end Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $54 million extension in 2012. It was a monster contract for a third-year player, but it looks wise now because Gronkowski will be underpaid for the next four season. This is NOT a similar situation, because Gronkowski would have been an unrestricted free agent after his rookie contract. Since Butler will be restricted, the Patriots can take a risk by not extending him, because in a worst-case scenario, they’ll have signed Butler as an undrafted free agent and come away with a first-round pick. That’s just good business.
What’s worse for Butler? A potential holdout can only hurt his value as a restricted free agent. Butler has every right to be upset that he’s a No. 1 cornerback making $600,000, but his best course of action might be proving he’s worth big money by playing in 2016, though there’s no reason to risk injury in voluntary organized team activities. Butler wasn’t present for Thursday’s session in front of reporters.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images