Despite hosting Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler on a visit earlier this month, New Orleans will not sign the defender to a restricted free agent offer sheet.
That information came directly from Saints head coach Sean Payton's Wednesday morning at the NFC coaches' breakfast at the NFL meetings in Arizona.
"We had the chance to visit with him," Payton said, via a video on ESPN.com. "Currently, it is my understanding he hasn't signed his tender, so it was just that we could sign him to an offer sheet, but I don't think we are going to do that and give up the 11th [overall] pick. In fact, we're not going to do that. It is what it is right now."
Under rules of restricted free agency, any team signing Butler to an offer sheet would surrender its first-round pick as compensation to New England if the Patriots chose not to match the offer. New England tendered the undrafted Super Bowl hero at the highest level this spring, which guarantees the first-round compensation while offering Butler a big raise to a potential 2017 salary of $3.91 million.
Butler could still be traded, including to New Orleans, where Payton described the situation as "ongoing" and told reporters it "might take a bit of time." But a trade cannot happen until the cornerback actually signs his RFA tender. Once that occurs he could be dealt to any team for any compensation worked out between the two sides. Many have speculated that the Saints could deal the No. 32 pick in the draft for Butler, New England's original pick that it sent to New Orleans in the Brandin Cooks trade earlier this month.
RFA rules also require that interested teams must sign Butler to an offer sheet by April 21, in order to give New England time to make its decision prior to the draft. So, the Butler situation could still take weeks to play itself out and the end result remains uncertain.