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Malcolm Butler begins in Bayou

March 15, 2017 GMT

Cornerback Malcolm Butler and the Patriots have gotten into a tender bender.

Butler will begin his tour as a restricted free agent tomorrow when he visits with the Saints, according to a source. New Orleans has been interested in Butler since at least last week, and got in touch with his agent in recent days to set up the meeting with the obvious goal of ratcheting up contract negotiations.

After a successful start to the free agency period, the Patriots had a more difficult day yesterday, as Butler set up his trip to New Orleans. But there are so many ways this can play out, so there’s no telling how Butler’s week will unfold.

The Saints are clearly interested in making it work with Butler, so it can be presumed the negotiations have gotten off to a fruitful start. If the sides reach common ground and agree to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have five days to decide how to proceed. They could match the offer and retain Butler, or decline and recoup the Saints’ first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall).

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But if the Saints don’t want to cough up the 11th pick in the draft, they could orchestrate a trade with the Patriots. Thus, tomorrow’s visit would still be fruitful in order to work on the terms of a contract extension that Butler could sign immediately following the trade.

Trade negotiations would seemingly be complicated, though, because of the value of the No. 11 pick. Consider the draft pick trade value chart, which was devised in the 1990s by former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. It’s somewhat of an antiquated system, but it can still be a worthwhile reference point.

The chart indicates the 11th pick is worth 1,250 points. The Saints could offer a comparable package by sending the Patriots three picks, Nos. 32 (590 points), 42 (480 points) and 76 (210 points). Those three selections are worth a total of 1,280 points.

While that’s not a perfect way to outline Butler’s value in a trade, the point is the Patriots would be doing the Saints a favor by negotiating a swap for anything less than two or three valuable picks. The Pats hold the leverage because they control Butler’s rights and the Saints own such a high first-rounder. If they’re willing to let Butler walk, the Pats should force the Saints to extend an offer sheet to keep the 11th pick on the table.

However, there’s one more thing to consider. A source told the Herald this week Butler has received interest from several teams. The Texans are reportedly one of those teams, so Houston could be Butler’s next visit if he is looking to set up a bidding war.

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The Texans own the 25th pick (worth 720 points, according to the trade value chart), just lost cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency and are a far greater threat to the Patriots than the Saints. So the Pats might accept the Saints’ 32nd and 76th picks (800 points) as comparable compensation to the Texans’ first-rounder in order to ship Butler out of the AFC, assuming the Saints also have an acceptable extension in place for Butler.

Though things are trending toward Butler’s departure, it’s still not a complete certainty. The Patriots could match any offer and keep Butler under contract. And if nothing materializes with Butler and the Saints, Texans or anyone else, the Pats still have him under their control for $3.91 million in 2017.

Butler doesn’t plan to hold out, according to a source. So even though he may only have one season remaining with the Pats, he would be a crucial contributor as they gear up for a run to Super Bowl LII. If Butler signs elsewhere a year from now, the Pats might be awarded a third-round compensatory pick in the 2019 draft. The shortage in draft compensation would be worth it if the Patriots lock down their third Super Bowl in four years.

With so many options at play, it’s impossible to predict Butler’s future beyond tomorrow’s journey to the Bayou.