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Butler signs Patriots’ offer; trade possible

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots signed cornerback Malcolm Butler to a free agent tender on Tuesday that makes the hero of their fourth Super Bowl victory eligible to be traded.

Butler, a Vicksburg native and former Vicksburg High star, signed the one-year tender offer that carries a salary of $3.91 million for the 2017 season. He had been due to make the league minimum of $600,000 in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

Butler visited the New Orleans Saints last month, but they declined to sign him to an offer sheet that could have required them to compensate New England with their first-round draft pick, No. 11 overall. Instead, the Saints are believed to covet Butler in exchange for the No. 32 overall pick they received in the trade that sent Brandin Cooks to New England.

Butler could not be traded until he signed the first-round tender offer. Had he signed with another team as a restricted free agent, the signing team would have had to give the Patriots their first-round pick if New England declined to match the offer. In the case of the Saints, that would have been their own pick at No. 11 overall.

Late last month, Saints coach Sean Payton said the No. 11 pick was too high a price to pay for Butler.

The NFL draft is April 27-29.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was asked several times about Butler at his pre-draft news conference on Tuesday, but declined to tip his hand.

“Right now we’re focused on getting ready for the draft,” he said. “That’s where the focus is. I don’t anticipate that many transactions here between now and next Thursday or Friday. Could that change? I mean, look, it’s the National Football League. Things can change in a heartbeat.”

Butler, now 27, was an undrafted free agent who during his rookie season of 2014 intercepted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLIX to secure the victory for the Patriots. He has since started 32 consecutive games, but New England coach Bill Belichick has balked at giving him the lucrative, long-term security he has been seeking.

Instead, the Patriots gave the money to free agent Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a 2012 first-round draft pick who made the Pro Bowl last season after recording 48 tackles and a career-high five interceptions. They also traded a sixth-round draft pick to Indianapolis for tight end Dwayne Allen and a second-rounder to Carolina for pass rusher Kony Early.

After their offseason trades, the Patriots don’t have a 2017 draft pick until early in the third round (No. 72 overall).