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Malcolm Butler signs Patriots' first-round tender

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Malcolm Butler has given up hope of a big pay day ahead of Friday's deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.

Butler has signed his one-year tender from the Patriots, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday. The first-round tender carries a salary of $3.91 million for the 2017 season.

New Orleans hosted Butler for a visit a month ago. Although the two sides exchanged contract proposals, Rapoport reported at the time, the Saints were unwilling to forfeit the first-round draft pick that would have been sent to New England had the Pats declined to match the offer.

"We can sign him to an offer sheet," Saints coach Sean Payton said late last month, "but I don't think we're going to do that and give up the 11th pick. In fact, I know we won't do that. So it is what it is right now."

Butler is in a tricky spot this offseason. Already 27 years old after entering the league as a 24-year-old undrafted free agent, he understands the time will never be better to cash in on a life-changing mega contract.

After emerging as a household name with his history-altering heroics in Super Bowl XLIX, Butler stayed healthy and played at a Pro Bowl level in 2015 and 2016.

Just when he expected to be rewarded by the Patriots with long-term security, the team opted instead to hand Stephon Gilmore the most lucrative contract of the 2017 free agency class.

Whereas coach Bill Belichick was often reluctant to leave the undersized Butler in man coverage versus bigger No. 1 receivers such as Julio Jones and A.J. Green, the more physical Gilmore can now handle those assignments.

So where does that leave Butler's future in New England?

If Belichick is indeed reserving the 2018 franchise tag for valuable backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, he will be more open to trading Butler as opposed to losing the cornerback as an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Now that Butler is under contract, it's conceivable that Payton and Belichick might reopen trade talks.

While the Saints refused to part with the draft's No. 11 overall pick, perhaps they would be more amenable to returning the No. 32 pick acquired in the Patriots' trade for Brandin Cooks.

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