According to ESPN, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler has signed his restricted free agent tender.
The former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero is now under contract for 2017 at a salary of $3.91 million.
But, the signing also, as ESPN alluded to, opens the door for a potential Butler trade. The cornerback visited the Saints earlier this offseason and New Orleans has made it quite clear it still has interest in the fourth-year cover man.
Butler's name was first reported in trade talks revolving around wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who went from New Orleans to New England in a deal for draft picks in early March. That deal saw the Patriots send their first-round pick, No. 32 overall, to the Saints. Speculation has pondered the possibility of that selection returning to Bill Belichick's team in a potential Butler deal.
In his three seasons since arriving in Foxborough as an undrafted rookie on a tryout out of West Alabama, Butler evolved into New England's No. 1 cornerback. He started all 16 games each of the last two years.
But the addition of free agent Stephon Gilmore from the Bills this spring on a $60 million contract altered the landscape in the back end of the New England defense and the hierarchy of the cornerback position.
Asked earlier on Tuesday about the possibility of a Butler trade, specifically if the Saints came calling, Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio responded in a rather general fashion.
"Our focus and goal is to put together the best team possible and however we're going to improve our team, whatever players we think are going to help our team for the 2017 season, then that's what we're going to do," Caserio said.
He also was asked if the team expected Butler to be in New England for the 2017 season.
Check out the best photos of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler from the 2016 NFL season.
"Right now we're focused on getting ready for the draft. That's where the focus is. I don't anticipate that many transactions here between now and next Thursday or Friday," Caserio said. "Could that change? I mean, look, it's the National Football League. Things can change in a heartbeat. So our focus is on getting ready for the draft and trying to put together the best team possible. [There's] a long way to go. Where we are today is probably going to be a lot different than where we are in September or whenever we play, like whoever that is. [There's] a long way to go, a lot of work to do but right now the focus is on getting ready for next week and doing the best job that we can with that opportunity."
For now, Butler is under contract and on paper gives the Patriots one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL. And New England doesn't have a pick higher than No. 72 overall in next week's draft.