Restricted free-agent defensive back Malcolm Butler will visit the New Orleans Saints on Thursday amid speculation about his future with the New England Patriots.
On Tuesday, Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed the impending meeting to Brett Martel of the Associated Press.
Butler was originally rumored as a potential trade chip in the Patriots' pursuit of Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The teams were able to complete that deal without him. The Pats received Cooks and a fourth-round pick in exchange for the No. 32 overall selection and a third-round pick.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported last week a deal between New England and New Orleans for Butler was still possible despite the other trade.
Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports later reported the Houston Texans are also interested and would send a second-round pick to New England if they can sign Butler.
But the 27-year-old cornerback's contract situation complicates his availability.
New England placed a first-round tender on him ahead of free agency. He would need to sign that contract in order to become available via trade. The Saints or another team could give him an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, but the Patriots could match any deal.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the Saints and Butler have begun contract talks and hope to reach an agreement this week and then move on to potential trade talks.
The Pats could also decline the option to keep Butler if a front office gives him a substantial offer, but the other team would then need to give them a first-round pick as compensation.
As for a contract extension, the corner's agent, Derek Simpson, told Mike Reiss of ESPN.com last week it's been a while since the sides discussed a new deal.
"The Patriots haven't approached Malcolm about his contract since last year, and anything that says he keeps asking for the moon is completely false," he said.
Meanwhile, the Patriots signed fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the division-rival Buffalo Bills early in free agency. Rapoport noted the deal is worth more than $14 million per season.
It's unclear whether New England would be willing to pay two corners at an elite level, which is another reason Butler's future remains up in the air.
He'd be a welcome addition in New Orleans. The Saints ranked last in the NFL in passing yards allowed (273.8 per game) and tied for 27th in interceptions (nine) during the 2016 season.
Butler has tallied 145 combined tackles, 36 passes defended and six interceptions across 43 regular-season games since joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He's best known for his interception at the goal line to help New England clinch Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.