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Patriots: What is Malcolm Butler’s ceiling?

In Butler’s second stint with the Pats, what can we expect? PIC: Kathy Willens/AP

Yes, you all remember “the pick.”

It was February 1, 2015. The Pats were up 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX. They had reclaimed the lead over the Seahawks after they took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter. But Tom Brady turned on “clutch mode,” throwing touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman to give the Pats a 4-point advantage.

But the Seahawks, with 2:02 left on the clock, had time to work. A 31-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch opened the drive, then an 11-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette. Then, it was a series of unfortunate events for rookie reserve cornerback Malcolm Butler. (Yes, this is the one people forget about.)

With the ball at the five yard line and 1:05 left to go, it was all-but-over, and if the Seahawks managed the clock correctly, they’d be going home with the Lombardi Trophy. But after Marshawn Lynch was stopped a yard short of the end zone, Pete Carroll decided to switch it up and call a pass play, hoping to catch the Pats off-guard.

You know the rest.

Malcolm Butler went from “no-name” reserve to overnight celebrity after the interception. He went on to have a solid three-year career with the Pats, becoming a primary coverage option throughout his time. In 2017, Butler was having another excellent season, but his reputation was marred by a benching in the Super Bowl. Butler received no playing time at CB - his only snap was a special teams rep with the punt team. The rumors poured in - he was sick, he was out partying with DJ Khaled, he was fed up with contract negotiations - but regardless, he was out after the Super Bowl, inking a big deal with the Titans.

Now, after three seasons with Tennessee and one with the Arizona Cardinals, Malcolm Butler is back on a two-year, $5 million “prove it” contract with the Pats. The question becomes…how high is his ceiling?

Butler spoke with the media at OTA’s this week, and I was personally left rather optimistic. “Feeling good & feeling fresh,” he said when asked how he felt. “Rejuvinated. Took some time off to handle some things and I’m back here now. I’m back in football shape, but I’ve got more work to do.”

“I have a lot to prove, especially to myself,” he continued. “If I do it myself, I’ll prove it to my teammates at the same time. So that’s why I’m working hard every day and trying to stay focused.”

Bill Belichick sang his praises, too. “Malcolm works hard, like he always has. Very competitive. Out there scrapping for balls.”

OurLads has identified Butler as the first-string left-side cornerback, beating out Terrance Mitchell - who started 13 games with the Texans last year - and fourth-year Joejuan Williams, who got his first start last year. It seems pretty apparent that if Butler is in football shape, as he says he is, he’ll be an immediate contributor. Time will tell if he can replace JC Jackson - as Jackson replaced him in 2018 - but as long as he can make some immediate contributions, I’m bullish on Butler to return to the production we know he’s capable of.

Butler’s relationship with Matt Patricia comes to mind as a potential hindrance from realizing his full potential. Seth Wickersham, who recently wrote “It’s Better To Be Feared,” debunked the many conspiracy theories about Butler’s cryptic benching in Super Bowl LII. According to the author, Butler and Patricia had a fiery encounter in practice, and Butler was “demoted” to a lower rank in the defensive depth charts. Butler, who was accused of showing poor effort, was vocal about his disappointment in this decision. Patricia now ranks as a “senior football advisor,” but in true Patriots spirit, we have no idea what his actual day-to-day is. Let’s hope it’ll either A) be far enough away from Butler that he won’t be able to determine his playing time, or B) that they’ve put this quarrel behind them…preferably the latter.


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