The New Orleans Saints and cornerback Malcolm Butler reportedly have the framework of a deal in place, according to Michael Giardi of CSNNE, with only some disagreement over the guaranteed money in the contract.
Butler's situation is more complicated, however, since he is a restricted free agent and the New England Patriots placed a first-round tender on him. That means the Patriots have the right to either match any agreement Butler signs with another team or acquire a first-round pick from the Saints, in this case, if New England doesn't match.
The third option, of course, is a trade between the teams, a possibility Giardi elaborated on:
It's certainly possible that, if a trade goes down, the Saints will send back the Patriots' first-round pick they received in the Brandin Cooks trade. If that transpired, it would mean the Patriots essentially traded Butler and a third-round pick to the Saints in exchange for Cooks and a fourth-rounder.
The series of deals would work out well for both sides. Saints head coach Sean Payton even admitted that trading Cooks was done in an effort to potentially upgrade the defense.
"It really got down to an opportunity to help improve our team, possibly defensively," Payton told Mile High Sports (h/t Matt Dolloff of CBS Sports. "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 then also the additional third-round pick."
Butler, 27, would certainly upgrade the team's defense more immediately than a draft pick. The cornerback accumulated 63 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack in 2016. Pro Football Focus rated him as the fourth-best cornerback in football and gave him the third-best coverage grade this past season.
He became expendable in New England, however, after the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract in free agency. And with the Saints linked to Butler throughout much of free agency, it continues to feel like he'll ultimately be playing his football in New Orleans next season.