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Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS. Saints head coach Sean Payton confers with QB Drew Brees in the first quarter of the Saints game against the Houston Texans in the Superdome earlier this season.

Patrick Dennis

The New Orleans Saints continue to pursue New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro who visited the Saints on Thursday and left without a deal.

New Orleans believes the visit was an early step in a long process that involves contract negotiations and a potential trade, and Saints head coach Sean Payton has been uncharacteristically open about the team's pursuit of the cornerback.

Payton offered an evaluation of Butler's talents in a Friday morning interview with San Diego radio show Hardwick & Richards. 

"He's a sharp, sharp kid," Payton said. "He's not too far from here, as far as his hometown. His story, coming out of a small town in Mississippi, through a junior college to West Alabama, it's pretty amazing. The first three years he's had in this league, shoot, he's had a tremendous amount of success."

Butler, who has six interceptions in the two seasons he's been a starter for the Patriots, also made an impression in joint practices between the Patriots and Saints in recent years. 

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"He's humble, but when you watch the tape, he plays with a chip on his shoulder," Payton said. "We practiced with New England, now, in that three-year time frame, twice, so there's a lot of additional practice tape that we have a chance to look closely at."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.