By: Kenny Doyle
What’s the deal? Seriously, what’s the deal?
Malcolm Butler has been a restricted free agent for 18 days now. Things in NFL free agency usually move quickly, as evidenced by the Patriots signing Stephon Gilmore the second they could. A mere 2 days afterwards the rumors of Malcolm Butler to the Saints for Brandin Cooks started, and yet here we are on March 27th and things couldn’t be any quieter.
What’s the hold up? It appeared inevitable just 2 weeks ago that Butler was headed to New Orleans. After the Brandin Cooks deal went through whispers all around the NFL were that the 32nd pick was just a placeholder until the Saints worked out a deal with Butler and then the Saints would just trade #32 back to the Patriots for Butler. The only reason the trade went through without Butler for the time being was because Cooks was due a $781,599 roster bonus on March 13th that the Saints didn’t want to pay.
Things seemed pretty clear cut. Butler and the Saints would work out a deal, the 32nd pick would come back, and the trade would essentially have been Cooks for Butler with middle round picks being exchanged on both sides. So what’s the hold up? If this was the case why isn’t Butler on the Saints yet? His visit with the Saints was now 10 days ago, Sean Payton already did a press tour praising Butler, the Saints twitter account has already been making snide comments hinting at the signing, and Butler has already posted an Instagram telling us verbatim: “Nothing changed but the change” which everyone assumed meant his money (change) changed. He posted that 5 days ago and that was the last time we heard any sort of news on Malcolm Butler.
In the meantime the Saints have signed Tedd Ginn Jr and Manti Te'o, leaving them with somewhere between $8 million and $13 million in cap room according to ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett. On the higher end, just enough to get the deal done. On the lower end, no more than the Patriots were reportedly offering before last season. If the Saints were planning on signing Malcolm Butler, why hasn’t it happened yet? All of the answers are good if you’re someone who wants to see Malcolm Butler back with the Patriots.
The first answer is that the Patriots and Saints are haggling over compensation. This would mean that either the Butler and Cooks deals were separate and it’s just a matter of coincidence that Butler is talking to the Saints after the rumor that the Patriots were trying to trade him there, or that one of either Belichick or Payton are going back on the wink-wink nod-nod deal they had for Butler when the Cooks deal went down. Both of these scenarios seem a little farfetched, but if either is the case it means the door is still open for a Butler return.
The other possibility is that the Saints and Malcolm Butler haven’t agreed on the money. If this is the case, it begs the question of what the Instagram post means if Butler hasn’t agreed to a contract in principle, but it could always just be some random meaningless post. He could just be referring to the fact that he is a free agent and no matter what happens his money will be changing at some point in the coming days. This one seems odd considering the Saints have already publicly praised Butler to the media, but it’s still possible that Butler just doesn’t want to play in New Orleans and is not going to agree to sign there.
The last of the possible reasons of why nothing has happened yet is that Butler is just holding out for a better offer from the Patriots. This would be a stupidest decision that Butler could make. The Patriots aren’t going to budge. If he is really just holding out for a better offer from the Patriots, then it will cost him a lot of money. The Patriots aren’t just going to cave into Butler’s demands with how little leverage that Butler has right now. If Butler doesn’t sign a deal with the Patriots before June, the Patriots can knock his tendered salary back down to under $1 million. If Butler really wants back with the Patriots, he’ll need to cave in. Right or not, the Patriots are forcing him to. The Patriots have shown that no matter how good of a Patriot you have been, they are not going to treat you any better than any of there other free agents. Whether that’s right or wrong, that’s the way it is.
If Butler’s going to the Saints, why isn’t it done yet? If it is any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above than that is a good thing. With each passing day it makes it more likely that Butler will return to the Patriots which he should. The fact that the Patriots won’t pay him is frustrating, but if they get him back, regardless of how they do it, that’s a good thing. Gilmore-Butler-McCourty would be fantastic. Looks like we’ll just have to keep waiting.