PHOENIX — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting that he hopes restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler returns to the team in 2017, and that the club doesn’t intend to trade him.
The Patriots have tendered Butler at the first-round level of $3.91 million. Butler hasn’t signed the tender offer and has visited the New Orleans Saints.
“I 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,” Kraft told reporters.
“I have a great affection for him. He 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 could also sign his tender with the Patriots, and then get traded for compensation other than the first-round pick New England would receive if Butler signed an offer sheet with another club.
When asked if the team’s intention was to trade Butler, Kraft said it wasn’t, before adding: “But I don’t want to, in any way, take away from his rights [as a restricted free agent].”
April 21 is the deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams.
The Patriots and Butler’s representatives had discussed a long-term extension last offseason, and some believed there was momentum toward a deal, but ultimately they couldn’t reach an agreement.
Now the Patriots’ long-term plans with Butler could be affected by the free-agent signing of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who inked a five-year, $65 million pact with $40 million in bonuses and guarantees.
As for the Saints, they have been focusing on improving their defense this offseason, and coach Sean Payton was complimentary of Butler after hosting him on his free-agent visit.
“Coming out of a small town in Mississippi and through junior college and into West Alabama, it’s pretty amazing,” Payton told XTRA 1360 radio in San Diego earlier in March. “The first three years he’s had in this league, shoot, he’s had a tremendous amount of success, winning two Super Bowls in three years and being a big part of a team that’s accomplished a lot. So I’d say he’s humble, but when you watch the tape, he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
If the Saints signed the 27-year-old Butler to an offer sheet and the Patriots didn’t match, New Orleans would surrender its first-round pick (No. 11) to New England. That would be a high price to pay, which is why Butler had previously been part of trade speculation with New Orleans in a deal for lesser compensation.