New England Patriots restricted free agent Malcolm Butler has scheduled a visit with the Saints at the team's headquarters on Thursday as New Orleans ponders whether to work out a trade with New England for the cornerback.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton confirmed the visit Tuesday, telling The Associated Press he holds Butler in high regard and is eager to meet with him.
The Saints typically host players for two days on free-agent visits. Players usually arrive on an afternoon or evening and have dinner with the team's brass before going to the facility the next day.
Butler had been part of trade speculation in a deal for Brandin Cooks, but the Saints and Patriots completed the trade that sent Cooks to New England for draft picks instead. The Patriots traded their 2017 first-round pick (No. 32 overall) and a third-round pick (No. 103) to New Orleans for Cooks and the Saints' fourth-round pick (No. 118).
Butler was tendered at a first-round level ($3.91 million) by the Patriots and can't be traded until he signs his tender. If he were to sign an offer sheet with another team and the Patriots chose not to match, the team that signed Butler would have to surrender its first-round pick to New England.
If the Saints were to go this route, which appears unlikely, New England would receive the Saints' first-round pick (11th overall). More likely, the Saints and Butler would agree on a contract and then the Saints and Patriots would agree on a trade for something less than the No. 11 pick. Butler would then sign his tender to facilitate the trade, after which he would sign the agreed-upon contract with the Saints.
The Saints and Patriots have a history of making trades with each other, with the Cooks deal as the latest example. Payton and Patriots coach Bill Belichick are friends and have had their teams practice together several times during recent preseasons.
Butler's agent, Derek Simpson, said last week that reports of Butler asking for "the moon" in his next contract were "completely false" as the "Patriots haven't approached Malcolm about his contract since last year."
The Patriots added cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency, signing him to a five-year, $65 million contract, with $40 million guaranteed. Simpson said Butler has "a lot of respect" for Gilmore.
Butler told ESPN's Josina Anderson last week that he was "going with the flow" regarding his future.
Payton labeled a cornerback as one of two "musts" for the Saints this offseason, along with an edge rusher. He specified that the reason the Saints explored trades for Cooks was because they were hoping to add resources to help improve their defense.
The Saints found their edge rusher on Tuesday, agreeing to a one-year contract with linebacker Alex Okafor. The Saints entered this offseason with about $25 million in salary-cap space.
Butler, a two-year starter, is best known for his late goal-line interception of Seattle's Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX. He intercepted four passes last season and broke up 17. He also was credited with 63 solo or assisted tackles, including a sack.
The Saints led the NFL in offense in 2016 but missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record as their defense ranked 27th overall in the NFL.
New Orleans has both of its 2016 season-opening starters at cornerback on the roster in Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams. However, Williams has played in only one full game in his first two years as a pro out of Florida State. The 2015 third-round draft choice missed his rookie season with a hamstring injury and last season was placed on injured reserve after a severe concussion during the second game of 2016.
ESPN's Adam Schefter, Mike Triplett, Mike Reiss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.