Malcolm Butler's career story and current contract situation are clearly pretty unique.
After two NFL seasons he's gone from undrafted tryout rookie to Pro Bowl cornerback. Along the way he made arguably the biggest play in Super Bowl history to put another Lombardi in Robert Kraft's trophy case.
This week, there have been reports that Butler is unhappy with his current contract – he's set to earn $600,000 in the final year of his rookie-free agent deal – and plans to "push" for a new pact prior to the start of the 2016 season.
Butler is scheduled to be a restricted free agent when his contract runs out, meaning he could be tendered by the Patriots at just under $4 million and any team interested in signing the young, rising star No. 1 cornerback would have to give up a first-round pick to the Patriots next spring.
Negotiating a new deal could be difficult for both sides. New England has Butler under contract for at least one more season and, with tenders and franchise tags, potentially longer than that. Butler has just one season as a starter under his belt, even if it's a Pro Bowl season.
Butler is two years away from true free agency. Even if he's upset and wants to push the point, CBA rules dictate that he must show up to the team 30 days prior to the start of the regular season in order to earn an accrued season this fall. Otherwise, he would only be an exclusive rights free agent next spring, which takes away the limited options he'd have even as a restricted free agent.
So any deal would need to be a give-and-take for both sides, even if Butler continues to ascend at arguably the second-most important position in football behind quarterback.
Strangely, maybe the best comparison for Butler's current situation is the spot that New England's franchise quarterback, future Hall of Famer Tom Brady himself, found himself in back in the summer of 2002.
The former sixth-round pick was preparing for his third NFL season, the final year of his rookie contract, and first full year as New England's starting quarterback. He had just won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP as a breakout star in 2001 following Drew Bledsoe's injury. Bledsoe had been traded to Buffalo on draft weekend, leaving the starting job to Brady who was reportedly set to have a salary of just $375,000 and a cap number of a mere $432,873 for 2002.
Clearly Brady wasn't going anywhere after 2002, especially if he continued to play well. But he had just one good-not-great season under his belt as a starter. Still, in late August of 2002, New England gave Brady a four-year contract extension. The deal, added on to the final year of his rookie contract, gave him a tiered signing bonus. He got $3.5 million on signing and another $6 million in March of 2003. The contract included bonuses for AFC title games, Super Bowls, MVPs and Pro Bowls. At signing it was reportedly a five-year deal with a total value of $30.52 million.
It was a different time, clearly. The 2002 NFL salary cap was just more than $71 million, which is less than half of this year's $155 million cap. And no matter how much importance is placed on the cornerback position, it's not the same as a quarterback.
But maybe the fact that Butler is a cornerback and not a quarterback balances out the inflation of the cap.
Could New England convince Butler and his representatives that a contract similar to what the team gave Brady way back when in a similar situation is appropriate now?
Would that be a fair deal for both the player and the team?
That's for the two sides to decide. But when looking for a comp for the unique, rags-to-riches success story that is Butler, the Patriots can look into their own past for a comparison worth noting.
And if Butler's career continues to trend in parallel fashion to the way Brady's did from 2002 through the present, then whatever money the Patriots give the rising star cornerback will be money well spent.