It was not supposed to be this hard. It was not supposed to get to this point. Star cornerback Malcolm Butler entered this offseason as a free agent. A restricted free agent.
So what happened? Why did it go down this road? It looked like the least likely road at the beginning of this offseason. There were so many more options.
Butler could’ve played under the RFA tender at just under $4 million, and then sign a long term contract with the Patriots or with another team.
Butler could’ve played under the tender, and the Patriots could’ve franchise tagged him. And decided whether to keep him or trade him.
However, it looks like Malcolm Butler will not play at Gillette Stadium next season. If he does, it would shock just about everybody, considering there are a multitude of reports saying the New Orleans Saints and Butler will be married soon.
While it is not clear why this situation has escalated this far, we can piece together knowledge of Butler’s camp and reports coming from the Patriots’ side of the negotiations, and try to come up with a solution.
Derek Simpson, Malcolm Butler’s agent, is a small town personal injury lawyer, and Butler is his only client in the NFL. This automatically raises some eyebrows. Why? Well, the restricted free agency process is much different than the unrestricted free agency process.
On to the Patriots side, Jeff Howe, of the Boston Herald, reported that the Patriots offered a contract to Malcolm Butler before the start of the 2016 campaign in the neighborhood of $6-7 million per year. Butler decided to gamble that he would improve off of a solid 2015 season, and he did.
Why weren’t the Patriots willing to offer Malcolm Butler top cornerback money then? Well, as previously stated, Butler is a restricted free agent. He does not have much leverage in this situation.
So what should Butler have done? Well, if he were to follow the system that the CBA had laid out, the one that the NFL Players Association agreed to, he should have played out this upcoming season under the RFA tender, and then test the open waters next offseason as a UFA. Obviously, there is the risk for injury or a dip in play, but how is that any different than any other player who is entering a contract year? What type of message is Malcolm Butler sending?
The fact that he has forced the Patriots’ hand is a dangerous tactic. If he and the Saints can not agree to contractual terms, or if the Patriots and Saints do not meet trade demands, then what will happen to Butler? He’s forced an uncomfortable situation, and the Patriots deserve no fault of that. They were just following the system.
What if Butler gets what he wants though? A new, big contract and a new place to call home. And a revived trend that the NFL and NFLPA were trying to crush by creating the new CBA. Restricted free agents do not have the same rights as unrestricted free agents because they have not earned the service time that unrestricted free agents have dogged through. Free agency is a right to all of these players. They get to decide where they go, and how much they want to go for.
The fact that this situation can cause a trend for restricted free agents is not a good thing. Butler and his agent, at the end of the day, are not doing what is right for the Patriots or the league. He is doing what is right for himself, a pretty selfish act. Players are allowed to be selfish, but to an extent. Not to the extent where if this becomes a trend among restricted free agents, the NFL and NFLPA may have to meet for yet, another, CBA meeting.
Does anyone remember what happened last time? Football season nearly started in October. The owners and players were at a huge disagreement.
Am I making something out of nothing? It’s certainly possible. But the fact that the Malcolm Butler situation has gotten to this is not a good sign.
And as I said before, the system is the system. It’s the system that both the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to. If Butler wants his money now, he needs to take significantly less, since he has a) no leverage b) the restricted free agent tag placed on him.