Green Bay Packers: Malcolm Butler should be a free agency target

Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Malcolm Butler can answer the Green Bay Packers’ cry for help at the cornerback position. He won’t come on the cheap, but it’s a move worth every penny.

Butler was responsible for one of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history three years ago, jumping Ricardo Lockette’s route to intercept Russell Wilson on the goal line and seal an unlikely victory for the New England Patriots.

It was a play that catapulted the undrafted rookie to superstar status, but this moment proved to be just the beginning, not the peak, of his career.

Barely able to make the field during New England’s playoff run in 2014, not many could have expected his dramatic rise, one that made him the Patriots’ top corner by the time they returned to the Super Bowl two years later.

A Pro Bowler in 2015 and a second-team All-Pro in 2016, Butler sits in the league’s top-tier at the cornerback position, but he’s in an interesting situation.

Butler, a restricted free agent, was slapped with a first-round tender. That’s where it gets a little difficult.

A team must be willing to not only pay Butler, likely making him one of the league’s highest paid cornerbacks, but also part ways with a first-round pick. A trade isn’t out of the question, but that would be equally as expensive.

This isn’t the type of move Packers GM Ted Thompson is renowned for making, but he should.

I know the majority of answers I’ll receive for this, but hear me out.

Yes, surrendering a first-round pick isn’t an ideal situation. Neither is paying top dollar. But in return for the 29th overall pick, the Packers would receive one of the league’s best cornerbacks.

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It doesn’t matter how deep the class of rookie cornerbacks entering the draft is. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone as talented as Butler who can provide the immediate help he can. Butler has played at an All-Pro level in the NFL. You’re essentially rolling the dice with a rookie.

If Butler entered the draft with everything we know about him now, would you use the 29th pick to sign him? Absolutely. Big contract or not, that would be a smart investment.

This isn’t a team in rebuild mode, or one that can afford to look too far into the future. Aaron Rodgers is in the prime of his career, and he needs to be surrounded by talent that can help now. Not tomorrow. Not in a few years. But now.

Butler can.

Don’t just take my word for it. He ranked 25th in Pro Football Focus’ top 101 players of 2016, finished fifth amongst all cornerbacks while also earning selection to the PFF All-Pro team.

In the top 101 rankings piece, Sam Monson noted that “Butler allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards seven times this season”.

He’s certainly a player that can be trusted to take on opponents’ top wide receivers. The Packers need someone who can do that right now. Green Bay’s defense will come up against Mike Evans, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Antonio Brown in 2017. Asking a rookie to take on that duty is a risky proposition.

Yes, bringing Butler in might go beyond Thompson’s cautious approach to the market. As a restricted free agent, there’s always the possibility New England matches any offer Green Bay makes.

But here we are, six months away from the start of the regular season. The Packers need help at cornerback. Dom Capers will get reinforcements in the draft, of that we can be sure, but Thompson has a rare opportunity to grab one of the league’s very best at the position.

At just 27-years-old, Butler’s play continues to ascend. He can give the Packers immediate help at their biggest need.

With more than enough cap room to accommodate a long-term contract, exchanging the 29th pick of the draft for an All-Pro caliber cornerback might be the smartest investment Ted Thompson will make all offseason.

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