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Saints table talk of signing Butler

PHOENIX (AP) — While the New Orleans Saints remain interested in New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, an offer sheet for him probably isn’t coming.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday his team won’t give up its first-round selection in next month’s draft to secure Butler, a Vicksburg native and restricted free agent.

“We had a chance to visit with him,” Payton said at the NFL’s annual meetings. “Currently, it’s my understanding he hasn’t signed his tender, so it was just that. We can sign him to an offer sheet, but I don’t think we’re going to do that and give up the 11th pick. In fact, I know we’re not going to do that.”

The tender is for $3.91 million and Butler can’t be dealt by New England if he doesn’t sign it. He can also sign an offer sheet with another team, which also would have to compensate the Patriots with a first-round choice. Butler must sign any offer sheet by April 21, giving New England eight days to match it before the draft.

The Saints have two first-round picks in this year’s draft — their own at No. 11 overall, and the 32nd pick acquired in an earlier trade with the Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. If they signed Butler, they would have to give the No. 11 pick to New England as compensation.

The trade for Cooks — the eighth between the Patriots and Saints during New England coach Bill Belichick’s long tenure — has fueled speculation that the Butler-to-Saints talk might not be finished. New England could still sign Butler to his tender offer and then trade him.

Butler has not visited any teams other than the Saints.

Also fueling speculation about a possible sign-and-trade deal for Butler was that Payton seemed open to trading some of the Saints’ picks to move around in the draft. New Orleans has five of the first 103 picks.

“It would be hard to say we are just going to sit at 32, you do have some flexibility,” Payton said. “I think overall having five picks in the first 103 picks provides that flexibility as well. You can certainly move up or move back, but we felt like there was depth at certain positions in this draft and we felt having ammo in those first 100-103 picks was important.”

For now, Payton said the meeting with Butler was simply a chance for both sides to get to know each other.
“I think that it’s ongoing if you will, obviously we can’t even have discussions because New England hasn’t even signed the player. For us it was a chance to meet him, put him on the board and find out how much football he knows. He’s from Mississippi and I think it was a good step,” Payton said. “He’s a guy we thought enough of in this process. We will see though I think it might take a bit of time.”

During a long and wide-ranging press conference, Payton also shot down a report that his New Orleans Saints had interest in troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Payton had breakfast with Manziel during Super Bowl week, but it was only a get-acquainted meeting.

“It was my first time having a chance to talk to him. I’ll leave it at that,” Payton said. “That was just what it was. I’m sure he’s got a handful of things he’s got to do stepwise to get himself back in position to sign with a club and play football again. It made sense to me to get to know him a little bit.”

The Saints are set for the near future at quarterback with Drew Brees. He was the only QB to play for them last season.

Manziel didn’t play in 2016 after being released by Cleveland and has had a long list of substance abuse and legal issues since entering the NFL.

“His skill set is unique, he has good feet, can create,” Payton said before addressing the story that the Saints were considering signing Manziel: “I think a part of the (news) report insinuated things were moving in that direction. I’ll just say it’s false.”