Hightower is visiting with the Steelers today, while Butler is reportedly meeting with the Saints, trying to hash out a deal with them. PFT and Reiss both had good explanations of how things can work out when trading a restricted free agent like Butler.
So, to summarize: (1) Saints negotiate with Butler; (2) if a tentative deal is reached, Saints approach Patriots; (3) if a tentative trade is reached, Butler signs tender; (4) Patriots sign Butler to multi-year deal and trade him or Patriots trade him and Saints sign him to multi-year deal.
It’s an interesting situation. On one hand you already have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman, not to mention Jonathan Jones, who, despite being primarily a special teamer, looked pretty good in a handful of cornerback snaps from the slot last season. Even without Butler, it’s not situation critical at corner. Getting a first round pick back would also help fill the void left by Butler as well.
But that ignores the bigger picture that Butler has been awesome and is one of our favorite defenders to watch. Same goes for Hightower. Those two made some of the biggest plays in the last two Super Bowls. I know BB won’t pay for past performance, but those plays gave Hightower and Butler a special place in Patriots’ fans hearts that will never go away.
There’s no place for a sentimental Patriots fan unfortunately. And now it seems like a distinct possibility that both Hightower and Butler could be on other teams next offseason. If that happens these will perhaps be the most surprising change of course by the Patriots over the last 17 years.
The 2012 draft was the start of it. The Patriots took two defenders in the first round and it seemed like they would be the core of the next dynasty. They drafted and scouted so well they knew they’d have a ton of hard choices to make if they were to keep that defensive core intact. And now it seems like building a foundation on defense didn’t really matter. Well, it didn’t matter as much as maintaining their pay structure, even when they had plenty of pay to go around.
It’s been about acquiring assets and keeping the cheap young player pipeline fresh. Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and now perhaps Butler could all be spun into capital, instead of maintaining continuity with the defense. Even Hightower’s exploratory adventure across the AFC would ultimately result in compensatory picks should he sign elsewhere.
We’ll weigh all that when the fates of Butler and Hightower are finalized. But this will certainly be a fascinating year for the defense.