Rest easy, Patriots fans: The Malcolm Butler drama is over in New England.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Wednesday that the Patriots cornerback returned to Foxborough this week to participate in optional offseason workouts, per a source informed of Butler’s attendance.
The 27-year-old cover man skipped the first phase of the team’s workouts in April while his future in New England hung in the balance amid trade whispers.
Speculation that Butler could be shipped to the Saints all but died, though, after the draft. It’s a manageable fate for the fourth-year corner. Playing this season on a one-year, $3.91 million pact, Butler is slated to hit free agency next March. Until that happens, he remains locked into a starting role in New England across from talented free-agent pickup Stephon Gilmore.
If Butler felt destined to wind up with the Saints, New Orleans put that concept to bed when they selected rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore out of Ohio State with the No. 11 pick in last week’s draft.
“By midnight last night, teams had the opportunity to extend tenders to their unrestricted free agents who had not yet signed,” Rapoport said. “So basically what this is is teams release all of their unrestricted free agents, and say, ‘All right, you go sign with another team, we will not get a compensatory pick anymore and also we don’t have your rights.’ The Patriots had such a list. Michael Floyd, who ended up signing with the Vikings, he was on it, as was Gregg Scruggs. LeGarrette Blount was not on it and I wondered why this morning. The reason why was the Patriots essentially retained his rights, trying to get themselves something if he signs with another team. It’s a tough, ruthless business decision, but it is what the Patriots have done.”
Pro Football Talk first reported the development.
Per the little-used tender, Blount can still negotiate with other teams until July 22. If the running back does not sign by July 22, he reverts to the Patriots and can only sign in New England unless he sits out through Week 10. Rapoport reported Blount would earn $1.1 million on the tender.
The New York Giants and Detroit Lions have been reported as possible destinations for Blount the past several weeks.
The Patriots used the tender as a callous business decision that would allow Blount to remain part of New England’s compensatory picks formulation. Other unrestricted free agents that sign after May 9, are not part of the equation — for example, Floyd signing on Wednesday does not count in the comp pick formula for the Pats or against the Vikings.
Blount led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016, earning 1,161 yards on 299 carries.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported it’s a one-year deal for Hawkins. The wideout turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere to join New England.
“It was never really about the money.” Hawkins said. “And to be honest, I passed up on deals that were probably double the compensation. But like I said, it was all about winning for me at this point and putting myself in the best position to do so.”
Hawkins admitted he has his “work cut out” to make a deep Patriots roster. New England added Brandin Cooks this offseason to a receiving corps that includes Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola.
Hawkins, who excels as a slot receiver, spent the past three seasons with the Browns. In 2016 he earned 33 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
If the 31-year-old makes the Patriots’ roster, he’ll likely work as a reserve from the slot position.