It’s a question fans and experts alike have been asking for weeks now: Will the New England Patriots trade restricted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler?
That is not the plan, according to team president Robert Kraft.
Kraft told reporters Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting the team does not intend to trade Butler, who has yet to sign the first-round tender the Patriots placed on him before free agency opened earlier this month.
“We have an offer sheet out to him,” Kraft said, “and we know he has the ability to go out in the market and get someone to sign him, and then we either match it (or) get the first-round draft pick.
“I’m rooting — I hope he’s with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us. I have a great affection for him, and he actually was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team. But there are a lot of people involved in that on both sides.”
Butler has been the Patriots’ No. 1 cornerback for the past two seasons, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and second-team All-Pro honors in 2016. If he plays under the tender this season, he would make just $3.91 million — more than $9 million less than recently signed Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
The New Orleans Saints have expressed interest in Butler, hosting him for a free-agent visit. The Patriots and Saints already swung one trade this offseason that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to New England, but no trade involving Butler can be discussed until he signs his tender.
If the Saints or any other team were to sign Butler, they would have to surrender their first-round draft pick to the Patriots while also signing the talented defensive back to a contract New England would be unwilling to match.
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