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Pats owner Kraft wants Butler back with team in 2017

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting that he hopes restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler returns to the team in 2017, and that the club doesn’t intend to trade him.

The Patriots have tendered a one-year, $3.91 million offer to Butler, but he has not yet signed it. He has until April 21 to sign the offer and return to the Patriots, or get a better free agent deal with another team.

Butler, a Vicksburg native and former Vicksburg High star, visited the New Orleans Saints last week. That’s the only team he has had contact with thus far.

If Butler signs with the Saints or another team, the signing team must send its 2017 first-round draft pick to the Patriots. In the Saints’ case that would be the No. 11 pick overall.

Butler could also sign his tender offer with the Patriots and then get traded to another team for other compensation besides the first-round pick.

New Orleans also has the No. 32 pick in the first round — courtesy of an earlier trade with New England for wide receiver Brandin Cooks — but giving up the higher pick to get Butler is widely viewed as a steep price to pay.

Talks between the Patriots and Butler’s agent on a long-term deal have reportedly stalled.

“I know he has the ability to go out in the market and get someone to sign him, and then we either match it or get the first-round draft pick. I’m rooting, I hope, he’s with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us,” Kraft said while speaking to reporters during a break in the NFL’s owners’ meetings. “I have a great affection for him. He was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team, but there are a lot of people involved in that on both sides.”

Butler rose to NFL stardom in Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle, when he broke up several passes in the fourth quarter and sealed the Patriots’ 28-24 victory with an interception at the goal line with less than a minute to play.

He moved into the starting lineup the following season and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2015, although he and a number of his New England teammates opted not to play in the annual all-star game.

Butler has started the last 32 games and has six career interceptions. He had 63 total tackles and four interceptions this season while helping the Patriots beat Atlanta for their second Super Bowl victory in three seasons.

Butler’s success and age — he turned 27 this month — have put him in line for a big payday as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks whenever he hits the open market, whether it be in 2017 or 2018.

Kraft, however, said he hopes Butler remains with the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama three years ago.

“I don’t want to in any way take away from his rights (as a free agent). I hope he’s with us,” Kraft said.