The Saints took the first step in what could be a complicated transaction by having Malcolm Butler visit with the team this week.

The Patriots cornerback, who is a restricted free agent, arrived at the team's facility Wednesday and was back Thursday to meet with the coaching staff and front office, according to a source. He also ate lunch in the cafeteria with his agents and other members of his circle.

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Malcolm Butler has arrived ahead of schedule.

Though a deal was not reached Thursday, sources explained that the situation is not over and it could be a long process. 

Since Butler is a restricted free agent, he cannot freely sign with another team. The Saints could sign him to an offer sheet, and if New England does not match, they would send the 11th overall pick to the Patriots as compensation. The other option would be to come to an agreement with New England and make a trade for other compensation.

That makes this a complicated deal with a lot of moving parts. If the Saints look to operate outside of the offer sheet, and instead want to make a different deal for lesser compensation, Butler would have to sign his tender, which would then put him under contract with the Patriots.

At that point, Butler would be doing so in good faith, likely with the understanding that he would receive a long-term deal from New Orleans and that the two parties have agreed on trade compensation that would make him a member of the Saints.

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An estimated deal for the 27-year-old would likely land somewhere in the range of $12-14 million per season.  With picks 11, 32, 42, 76, 103, 196 and 229 in the upcoming draft and an estimated $10-11 million in cap space, New Orleans has the assets to pull this off, if it desires.

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The opportunity is there for the New Orleans Saints to put together a very strong offseason.

If Butler stays with the Patriots, after making a combined $1.53 million the past three seasons, he'd be due $3.91 million in 2017. He can continue to look for other suitors until April 21.

Having a desire to acquire Butler makes sense for New Orleans. The team dealt with injuries across the board last season and ended up having to rely on B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore, neither of whom are currently under contract, to fill the void.

If Butler, who allowed 45 catches on 85 targets with 13 pass breakups and four interceptions, according to The Advocate's charting, comes into the fold, New Orleans could pair him with Delvin Breaux and have one of the better cornerback tandems in the league. 

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