Malcolm Butler has arrived ahead of schedule.
The Patriots cornerback was at the Saints' facility on Wednesday afternoon to meet with the team, according to sources. Sean Payton told the Associated Press that he was going to meet with Butler on Thursday.
Butler, a 2016 second-team All-Pro, is currently a restricted free agent and was tendered at the first-round level. That means the Saints have two avenues to acquire him.
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The first option would be to sign him to an offer sheet. If New England declined to match the offer, it would get the Saints' 11th overall pick in exchange for the cornerback.
The other option would be to agree on the parameters of a long-term deal with Butler and then work out a trade with the Patriots in exchange for different compensation. The Saints currently have picks 11, 32, 42, 76, 103, 196 and 229 in the upcoming draft.
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It would likely cost more than the $10 million per season the Tennessee Titans paid Butler's former teammate, Logan Ryan, and perhaps less than the $14 million per season New England shelled out to sign Stephon Gilmore this offseason to acquire Butler.
The opportunity is there for the New Orleans Saints to put together a very strong offseason.
The Saints currently have around an estimated $10-11 million in cap space remaining. If they're interested, and the deal has to be rich, that leaves plenty of room to structure a deal that would fit. New Orleans will also get another $7 million in space on June 2 when Jairus Byrd's contract comes off the books.
Butler, 27, was rumored to be brought up during conversations when the Patriots and Saints were discussing the trade for Brandin Cooks, but those talks shifted course since he is not currently under contract.
Acquiring Butler would dramatically improve a Saints secondary that possesses talent, but recently has struggled to stay healthy. If acquired, Butler would likely start opposite Delvin Breaux and sit ahead of P.J. Williams on the depth chart.