At the moment, Malcolm Butler is still a New England Patriot. After a visit with Saints officials at the team facility last Thursday, Butler left without a deal, leaving only speculation and debate to run rampant through St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Most of these said rumors involved what compensation the Saints would have to surrender to bring on the 27-year-old restricted free agent.
To be honest, at the onset of trade rumors, I was against bringing Butler to New Orleans. There are a lot of potentially very good cornerbacks available in the 2017 draft, a player like Butler would command a top end salary, and debate whether Butler was merely a player that was only productive in the Patriots’ system. All valid points, to be sure.
Watch film on Malcolm Butler, and you will not see a player who is protected by a defensive system. Butler is one of the more capable man-to-man cornerbacks in the league. He allowed just slightly over 50% completion percentage against him in 2016. He is also improving rapidly in his zone awareness. Butler shows excellent ability to break on the ball and is a capable tackler.
The Patriots did sign former Buffalo Bills corner Stephon Gilmore to a lucrative deal at the beginning of free agency. This should not necessarily be viewed as choosing Gilmore over Butler as a player. New England has a reputation for dealing away many players as they are approaching large free agent deals. They may have seen an opportunity to trade away a restricted FA such as Butler for valuable draft picks, while spending approximately the same amount of money for a player like Gilmore, who they hope will produce similar results.
This looks to be a very deep and talented draft at the cornerback position. Players such as Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor (Florida), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), and Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson) are among a handful of corners that could very easily be future NFL pro bowlers. These are players that could be available to the Saints at the 11th overall pick. A couple could still be available at No. 32, or perhaps even at pick 42 in the second round.
The Saints have drafted six cornerbacks within the first three rounds during the Sean Payton era. Usama Young, Tracy Porter, Patrick Robinson, Johnny Patrick, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and P.J. Williams aren't exactly a Who's Who list of NFL defensive backs. Porter had a nice NFL career, and the talented Williams hasn't seen the field enough for a fair assessment. Outside of those two, would anyone like a repeat of that list drafted into a Saints uniform?
The NFL draft is every bit the gamble that free agency can be, and even "can't-miss" prospects can turn out to be busts. There is another question to consider at this position. When is the last time a rookie cornerback was a difference maker in his first professional season? It typically takes a player a season or two at this position to develop and adjust to the differences of the NFL. In Butler, the Saints would receive a proven talent who is just coming into the prime of his career.
The price to obtain Butler could be steep, both in terms of salary and what New Orleans will likely need to give up to get him. Reports of the Patriots asking price vary anywhere from the Saints 11th overall pick this year, to multiple 2nd and 3rd round picks over the next two drafts. As mentioned, Butler is a restricted free agent; so New Orleans would be absolute fools not to have a multi-year contract agreement in place before making any kind of deal. Butler's salary expectations will likely be around $10-12 million per year. Steep demands, to be sure, but that is what the price is for top-end cover corners in the NFL. If you are the Saints, and you believe that this is a guy that can lock down a coverage spot for the next 3-5 years, then you maneuver the cap space necessary to make that deal.
If New England's final asking price is the Saints No. 11 pick this year, general manager Mickey Loomis should simply hang up the phone and immediately block his number. The ideal scenario would be that the Saints will be able to trade for Malcolm Butler and give up perhaps a 3rd Round pick this season and conditional pick in 2018. Either the 32nd or 42nd overall picks would be a high, but reasonable asking price. Malcolm Butler is a young, but established Pro Bowl-type talent that easily has a late 1st/2nd round value.
Butler would immediately team with Delvin Breaux to give the Saints one of the most formidable cornerback tandems in the league, hopefully solidifying the position for the foreseeable future. New Orleans can then still use the remaining four picks in rounds 1-3 to fill glaring needs at edge rusher, linebacker, and safety.
How do you feel the Saints should approach the Malcolm Butler situation?