Patriots restricted free agent Malcolm Butler reportedly visited with the Saints on Wednesday and Thursday in New Orleans.
But the impression that the Pro Bowl cornerback has made on Saints head coach Sean Payton goes well beyond anything seen the last couple days, the coach well aware of Butler's journey to NFL stardom.
"You know, coming out of a small town in Mississippi and through junior college and into West Alabama, it's pretty amazing," Payton told Xtra 360 radio in San Diego, via ESPN. "And 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."
Reports earlier this month indicated Butler was discussed by the Patriots and Saints in a potential trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, though the teams eventually made that deal without the inclusion of the cornerback. New England sent its first-round pick along with a third-round selection to New Orleans with a fourth-round pick coming back along with Cooks.
Joint training camp practices between the two franchises in recent years could be helping to fuel the affinity to swap personnel, according to Payton.
"We've practiced with New England now in that three-year time frame twice, so there's a lot of additional practice tape that we have a chance to look closely at," Payton said in reference to Butler. "And I'm sure Bill [Belichick] and his staff were the same way when evaluating Cooks."
Now, Payton's Saints are apparently considering a long-term contract for Butler assuming they can work out another trade with the Patriots, including speculation that the No. 32 selection from the Cooks trade could return to New England.
Under restricted free agent rules, if the Saints signed Butler to an official offer sheet the Patriots could either match the deal or let the cornerback go and receive New Orleans' first-round pick, No. 11 overall, as compenstation. But this scenario is considered extremely unlikely.
Speaking of Cooks, Payton also discussed the reasons New Orleans parted with the playmaker who topped 1,100 receiving yards the last two years in Drew Brees' arsenal.
"I think for us it's improving defensively, and we're looking closely at all of our options to do that," Payton said. "We weren't actively shopping him. A handful of teams had called regarding possibly acquiring him. He's a fantastic guy, someone who worked really, really hard here. We knew coming out of college the makeup was fantastic, and he came in and had a lot of success."
Cooks did voice frustration at times about not getting the ball enough in New Orleans, something Payton addressed in his explanation of the deal.
"I think ultimately one of the challenges sometimes, especially here in this offense, is the ball gets spread around some, and yet you're looking at a player that had over 1,200 yards receiving," Payton said. "And it really got down to an opportunity to help improve our team possibly defensively. And we'll be able to look at it three years down the road with what we're able to do with the first-round pick and also the additional third-round pick."
Adding a Pro Bowl cornerback with Butler's track record would certainly be a step forward for the Saints at-times historically bad defense.