Hannable: Quick look at upcoming free agents says Patriots could actually keep Malcolm Butler

Ryan Hannable
December 07, 2017 - 11:55 am

Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports

Even though it’s still the regular season, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to this upcoming offseason and free agency.

The Patriots really don’t have too many free agents of their own. 

There are 13 players in total, but not too many that are extremely important. The big names are Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.

Right off the bat, Ebner and Slater likely could be re-signed at a low value, which wouldn’t impact how they approach the rest of the offseason. It would also seem the team will bring back either Lewis or Burkhead, with Burkhead being more likely just because Lewis could be in higher demand and want more money. Another possibility is the team moving on from Mike Gillislee and bringing back both Lewis and Burkhead. Regardless, not anything that will impact their overall spending.

The same goes for Amendola, who has taken pay cuts each of the last few years, and at 32 years old, he could potentially retire. If not, Amendola would likely return on a one-year, short money deal.

This leaves Solder and Butler as the two biggest names left and likely the two players who will demand the most money.

Solder is an interesting case, as he will turn 30 years old next April and we’ve already seen players of his generation like Jerod Mayo retire early and Solder could be a player to follow suit, especially with everything that is going on with his personal life.

It’s worth noting the Patriots seem to have planned for this being a possibility with all the young tackles on the roster this year. Undrafted rookie Cole Croston has been on the 53-man roster the entire season, undrafted rookie Andrew Jelks is on injured reserve, and 2017 third-round pick Tony Garcia is on the non-football reserve list.

If Solder doesn’t in fact return, the Patriots could absolutely make a legitimate run at re-signing Butler, and even if he does, it would seem the team would still have the cap space to do it.

Over the past few seasons it’s been clear how important good cornerback play is, and by re-signing Butler the Patriots would make sure they have one of the best tandems in the entire NFL with Butler and Stephon Gilmore. Besides these two, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones would be in the mix as well.

Rowe, and both Jones’ have the potential to be solid third corners, but it remains to be seen if they could handle being a No. 2 corner opposite of Gilmore. The Patriots will need to either bring back Butler, or sign a top of the market corner.

It appears Butler has moved past what happened this offseason, although his year hasn’t been as strong as his previous two. This likely will impact his next contract as the past few weeks have shown that Gilmore is actually a better corner than Butler. This past offseason many thought Butler was deserving of the same, if not more money than Gilmore, but now nearing the end of Gilmore’s first year in New England, that isn’t the case.

An early guess at Butler’s next contract would be somewhere in the range of what Logan Ryan got from the Titans this past offseason — three years and $30 million. If this is the case, the Patriots would certainly be capable of fitting it into their budget.

Going into the year it seemed almost for sure the Patriots would not have any chance in retaining Butler for the future, but now after 12 games and looking at the impending free agents, if the Patriots want to bring him back it looks like they can.

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