There’s no secret the Steelers may be looking to upgrade their second corner spot. By only tendering Ross Cockrell at a original round compensation, Pittsburgh seems to be almost begging others to take him off their hands. Teams would only have to give up a fourth round pick to acquire an above average starting cornerback, provided the Steelers didn’t match. What’s the plan if Cockrell were to be signed away? The top free agents like Houston’s A. J. Bouye are sure to be out of Pittsburgh’s salary range. The draft is deep at defensive back, giving them a viable option to replace the starting corner spot. What if the Steelers took a different approach and tried the restricted free agent route?
That’s where New England’s Malcom Butler comes into play. He is a restricted free agent who would require a first round pick as compensation. There’s always the threat that the Patriots could match any offer as well. The Super Bowl champions have more cap room then most teams in the league, and could easily afford any offer given to Butler. They have shown in the past a reluctance to overpay, or even give market value to their own free agents. If the Steelers were to come in with an $8-$10 million a year offer to Butler, it may just cause the Patriots to take the pick and walk away. At worst, Pittsburgh would force their rival to eat up some of that substantial cap space. It would be a tactical move where Pittsburgh would benefit with either outcome.
The question now becomes is Malcom Butler worth that kind of money and compensation? Well to start, Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the 7th best cornerback in 2016. Butler had 4 interceptions and a sack this past season for the Super Bowl champions. In only his second year starting, he has already been to the Pro Bowl (2015) and was second team All-Pro in 2016. There’s no doubt having a secondary that consists of Butler, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Mike Mitchell would be a formidable one. With the Steelers so close to being a Super Bowl contender, this is the kind of bold move that could put them over the top in 2017.