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Malcom Butler’s Return to the Patriots is Surprising, But Necessary

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
2 months ago at 8:24 am ET

Malcom Butler’s Return to the Patriots is Surprising, But NecessaryJason Bridge - USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday’s return of Malcolm Butler to the New England Patriots was definitely a surprise, with Bill Belichick opting to set whatever differences the two had aside to bring back the former defensive back to the secondary.

According to ESPN’S Adam Schefter, who confirmed the signing with Butler’s agent, the former Patriots player signed a two-year deal worth $9-million with incentives, with the transaction tearing off the band-aid from one of the most painful moments in franchise history for a club in dire need of depth at cornerback.

With J.C. Jackson having departed to the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason, the Patriots already found themselves down one starter heading into 2022 and thus far hadn’t had much luck finding a quality replacement.  The first wave of free agency came and went, with New England coming away with a depth player in their secondary after bringing in former Houston Texans cornerback Terrance Mitchell on a 1-year deal worth a reported $3 million.

Mitchell is an experienced veteran but it remains to be seen what impact he’ll make and how well he’ll fit into New England’s defense.   But the fact the Patriots couldn’t find someone in their price range early in free agency made things a little more complicated, opening the door for what can only be considered one of the boldest moves we’ve ever seen Bill Belichick make and it was jaw-dropping, to say the least.

Butler signed with the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2021 season, but ended up hanging up his cleats at the end of the preseason last August and seemed to be done with football.  However, Ian Rapoport previously reported that the Cardinals released him from the reserved/retired list back in February, with the NFL Network’s Mike Giardi later reporting that the former undrafted rookie had been working out diligently and was potentially eyeing a return to the game.

That being said, it’s probably safe to say very few ever thought he’d be back in New England.

Most remember Super Bowl LII where something clearly happened leading up to that contest, which saw Butler playing zero defensive snaps while sitting out the entire night as Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles put up 41-points.   Butler played just one snap all game, which came on special teams despite the fact his teammates struggled all game to get off the field.

We never really learned why Butler was sidelined.  There were various rumors about him missing curfew, attending a concert, and other additional speculation that was never confirmed with Butler himself at one point even issuing a statement to shoot down all the reports.

We also heard rumors about a verbal or physical altercation, but none of those were ever confirmed either.  All we heard was that it was a “football decision”, with no further explanation given beyond that.  There were no signs during the playoffs that signaled any potential issue.  The veteran played in 100% of the snaps during the Divisional Round playoff win over the Tennessee Titans, as well as 100% of the snaps the following week in the AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But against the Eagles, he was merely a spectator and Belichick was never willing to give reporters a straight answer.

“I appreciate the question, but it would be a much longer discussion,” Belichick told reporters the day after the game. “There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”

Butler did eventually talk about it but still said little.  The only thing he ever mentioned was the fact he was, in fact, sick that week, telling SI.com that he didn’t initially travel with the team.

“The week before the Super Bowl, you know I just, I wasn’t too feeling too well. Like I had a full nose running. Nose stopped up. You know, I took a trip to the hospital. And, I didn’t travel with the team the day they traveled down there,” said Butler. “I never missed a game. Never like, missed practice or anything like that.”

Butler claimed he spent the week with family and claimed he didn’t understand why he was benched.

It was a bizarre year for Butler, who had a contentious offseason leading up to his final season with the club.  After his game-clinching interception at the goal line against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX to seal New England’s win, Butler became one of the Patriots’ most important assets on defense and he eventually started making it clear that he expected to be compensated accordingly and was looking for a contract extension.

Instead, the Patriots let him play out his deal and placed a first-round tender on him worth $3.91 million when he became a restricted free agent prior to the 2017 season.  New England would later go on to sign free agent Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year, $65-million deal, which essentially ended any hope of Butler reaching an agreement for an extension.

Butler eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans after the loss to Philadelphia, agreeing to a 5-year, $61 million contract, but he lasted just three seasons with the club.

His return is clearly due to the fact the Patriots are severely lacking depth in their secondary.  With Jackson gone, they essentially have last year’s acquisition in Jalen Mills, who filled in admirably but struggled at various points during the season.  They lost Jonathan Jones to a season-ending injury, and the hope is that Jones can pick up where he left off after he seemed to be coming into his own prior to getting hurt.

After that, things are a little murky.  They have Joejuan Williams and Justin Bethel, with most of Bethel’s major contributions last season coming on special teams.  Myles Bryant had some moments in 2021, but he was inconsistent and he struggled mightily during New England’s playoff loss to the Bills.  The Patriots made a deal late in the preseason with the Baltimore Ravens for Shaun Wade, but the former 5th round pick never broke into the line-up and he’s among the question marks the club has heading into the 2022 season.

In Butler, they have someone with experience in the system and chemistry with what few remaining veterans were here during his final year, but from there, it’s tough to say how this might go.  The player that’s coming back isn’t quite the same one that left here, but if ever there was a place for him to resurrect his career, New England would certainly be a good place to do it.

The 32-year old last played a meaningful NFL game during the Wild Card round where his team fell short against the Ravens, which saw him intercept a pass by Lamar Jackson during the Titans’ 20-13 loss.  He finished the 2020 season appearing in 16 games while finishing with 14 passes defended, including 4 interceptions.  He also ended up with a career-high 94 total tackles, including 80 solo.


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Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Arizona Cardinals Bill Belichick Devin McCourty Houston Texans J.C. Jackson Jacksonville Jaguars Los Angeles Chargers Malcolm Butler Philadelphia Eagles Stephon Gilmore Super Bowl LII Tennessee Titans Terrance Mitchell


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