Pats' Butler signs restricted free agent tender

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Early guesses at the season-opening schedule by some experts are proving true with a report from Ben Volin at the Boston Globe that the New England Patriots "will nearly certainly" open the season against the Kansas City Chiefs.

National Football League reporter Field Yates said Butler signed the agreement Tuesday, but that a trade could still be on the table. Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed as much during the annual league meetings in March by saying, "I don't think we're going to do that and give up the 11th pick". Trading Butler is an obvious way to get that pick back.

The bottom line: As if they weren't already, the Patriots will be Super Bowl favorites next year should they keep Butler around. The Patriots traded first and third-round picks for Cooks, a second for Ealy, and a fourth for tight end Dwayne Allen.

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Or Butler could just stay in New England and play out the season. Should the Bills decline to match the offer, the Patriots will likely let free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount find a new team.

The Patriots also need to look at edge defender and linebacker, with Kony Ealy and Kyle Van Noy free agents after 2017 and Rob Ninkovich getting older, and at strong safety with Patrick Chung getting older, too.

Butler was given a first-round tender by the Patriots earlier this offseason, but the two sides could not work out a long-term extension. A trade of Butler before the 2017 NFL Draft would accelerate the compensation by two years, and it would likely provide better draft compensation.