The New England Patriots assigned the first-round tender on restricted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday, essentially taking care of the easy part of his contract situation. Now it gets tricky.

The one-year tender will pay Butler $3.91 million for the 2017 season, which represents a bargain for a cornerback that has played at a top-10 level at his position over the last two seasons. Butler could theoretically sign an offer sheet with another team that the Patriots would have to match, but any interested team would have to give up a first-round pick to nab Butler.

The Patriots and Butler would love to come to terms on a long-term agreement that would keep the Super Bowl hero in town for the rest of the decade, and negotiations on that front could take place later this offseason.

Butler wrote one of the most surprising endings in Super Bowl history in 2015, but his second act as a pro has been even more impressive. He went from a No. 4 cornerback on his own team as a rookie to a Pro Bowler in his second season and kept up his physical style of play in 2016.

The Patriots have traded away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins over the last year, but it would be a surprise if Butler didn’t eventually get a long-term extension to stay in Foxborough.

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