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Samsonite Make Your Case: The Butler Debate
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on Patriots.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New England Patriots organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Patriots officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
There've been two major stories surrounding the Patriots this past week: the re-signing of linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower to a four-year pact and cornerback Malcolm Butler's open flirtation with the New Orleans Saints.
While Hightower, too, paid visits to a few other NFL clubs before ultimately deciding to remain with New England, Butler is in a different situation and his future remains uncertain.
Unlike Hightower, who was an unrestricted free agent, Butler, entering his fourth NFL season, is restricted. Teams normally don't pursue other teams' restricted free agents unless they're truly serious about acquiring those players, given the compensation that's often required to obtain them.
This is what makes Butler's predicament so intriguing. Because New England offered him a restricted tender contract at the first-round draft choice level, any club that signs Butler to a competing offer sheet must surrender its first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, assuming the Patriots elect not to match such an offer, which is their right under restricted free agency rules.
However, retaining Butler's services for at least one more season is also an attractive option. Pairing the beloved Super Bowl XLIX star, who helped the Patriots win the latest Super Bowl last month, with newcomer Stephon Gilmore would make for one of the most fearsome cornerback tandems in the NFL.
So, what are the Super Bowl LI champs to do about Butler.
Patriots Football Weekly's staff writers have assembled a list of pros and cons for trading or otherwise parting ways with Butler. Read it carefully, then let us know what you think by casting your vote in our weekly Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.
With the addition of Gilmore – a No. 1-caliber cornerback who's slightly bigger and younger – Butler may no longer be in New England's long-term plans. So, parting with him now would assure the Patriots of acquiring at least one or likely more valuable assets, as opposed to waiting till next year to watch him leave when he's an unrestricted free agent. New England would receive nothing if he were to sign with another team at that point.
For the player's sake – one who was so instrumental in the team's recent Super Bowl successes, action to move him now would bring closure and certainty to his situation, rather than keeping him in limbo.
Dealing with such a loyal player in this fashion might also send a questionable message to other players on the roster who work hard in the system that they, too, might not be rewarded for their contributions in the end.
Butler's departure would leave the team without its top two corners from last two seasons (Logan Ryan recently signed as a free agent with Tennessee), both of whom played well and were remarkably healthy. The defending Super Bowl champs would enter 2017 having to rely on newcomers and other players with injury histories and/or unproven skills at the cornerback position, which would be a rather risky proposition.
In the wake of the trades of DE Chandler Jones, LB Jamie Collins, and the most recent free agent departures (including DEs Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long), allowing Butler to leave would seem like an unnecessary contribution to what has been significant roster turnover on defense the past year.
Now, it's your turn! Where do you stand on the Butler question?