FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wide receiver Wes Welker's arrival in New England before the 2007 season as a restricted free agent could foreshadow cornerback Malcolm Butler’s departure from the Patriots this offseason.
Butler, a restricted free agent, is visiting the Saints on Thursday, coach Sean Payton told the Associated Press.
Here is how Welker's situation is relevant to Butler:
In 2007, the Patriots hosted Welker -- then a member of the Miami Dolphins -- on a visit when he was a restricted free agent. The club planned to put together an offer sheet in hopes of dissuading the Dolphins from matching (the Patriots would surrender a second-round pick) when then-Patriots VP of player personnel Scott Pioli reached out to Dolphins GM Randy Mueller to discuss a different scenario. Explaining to Mueller the Patriots' intentions with Welker, while also wanting to maintain professional relations with a division rival, Pioli suggested a trade instead of going through the offer-sheet process.
If the Patriots and Welker could reach an acceptable long-term extension, would Mueller be willing to simply trade him to the Patriots for a second-round pick and a deal-sweetening seventh-rounder?
Mueller agreed, and once the Patriots and Welker agreed in principle on a five-year, $18.1 million deal, all that was left was for Welker to sign his restricted free-agent tender in Miami so he could be traded to New England (a player can't be dealt if he isn't under contract).
Look for the same dynamics to be in play with the Patriots and Saints, who have strong relations -- led by coaches Payton and Bill Belichick.
If Butler and the Saints can agree on a long-term extension, it's hard to imagine the Saints would go through the actual offer-sheet process because they won't give up the No. 11 overall pick in the draft for Butler. But they would likely give up the 32nd overall pick they acquired from the Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade -- or second- and third-round picks -- which New England would probably accept.
That sets the table for a trade, similar to Welker's situation in 2007.