The New England Patriots are not ones to shy away from moving the big player during the season. Could the same thing be on the horizon for the former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler?
Butler was subject to trade talks all the way through the offseason and there seemed to be ill feelings between the two parties as both sides were trying to agree with an extension.
Things got even more tense when the team signed Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year $65 million contract that Butler assumed he deserved.
It’s fitting now after a victory against the New Orleans Saints in which what was assumed to be a dress rehearsal for a possible Saints-Butler marriage, turned into the Eric Rowe show with Butler as the slot cornerback.
Butler does indeed struggle against the much bigger receivers which is why you saw Logan Ryan and Rowe covering arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones during Super Bowl LI and there’s no disputing this. Rowe took the field again Sunday to cover Brandon Coleman who is 6-foot-6.
As much as it shows on the field, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia continues to downplay the rumors that Butler is on the outs.
“I think Malcolm is kind of in the boat with everyone else,” Patricia told the Boston Herald. “We’re trying to get better, we’re trying to improve, we’re trying to put guys out there depending on the situation that we have to be in that can play the defense that we’re asking them to play on that down.”
Even Butler’s assumed replacement Rowe downplayed it as well saying Butler was possibly the victim of the game plan.
“It was just a switch we made at the beginning of the practice week,” Rowe said. “It could even go back the other way. I think it was just for me to get some reps on the outside.
Rowe went even further to defend Butler exclaiming that they were just following the same formats on defense as last year with nothing having to do with the all-pro cornerback’s play.
“I didn’t feel through the week or Malcolm (Butler) didn’t feel like it was anything uncomfortable-wise,” Rowe said. “I was doing it last year with Logan Ryan too, so it really doesn’t make a difference.”
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist like Patricia to realize that Butler, who is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their passes against him, isn’t playing well at all. The cornerback who has played over 95 percent of snaps on defense in two straight seasons isn’t blaming anyone but himself for his lackluster play.
“I haven’t been performing at the level that I should be performing at,” Butler said to ESPN. “There’s no excuses.”
The Patriots work in the way of business. They have a cornerback in Gilmore who has played very well the first two games and Rowe who has been able to cover receivers including the ones bigger in size that Butler has difficulty with.
Even second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones saw snaps on defense and played well in his time on the field breaking up a touchdown pass intended for Ted Ginn Jr. and a pass from Brandon Coleman who is again, as tall a wide receiver you can find in the NFL.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had nothing but great things to say about him and his fundamentals on the field.
“I thought on both of those plays the technique that he used to finish the play, the final reception point, was excellent, perfect,” Belichick said. “It was textbook technique, what we teach all of our players to do, but it’s a great illustration of Jonathan doing it and having two big plays, two very productive plays.”
As much as sides want to downplay it, there’s something else going on contrary to what is being said in the facilities. Butler is not happy and his play shows it.
The stellar play of the two other cornerbacks previously mentioned is making it easier for Belichick to see that there’s a surplus at cornerback and a glaring need at wide receiver.
Much like the Jamie Collins trade, the Patriots may simply not want to put up with Butler any longer and use his high stock to get a high draft pick or a talented player in return.
It could be tomorrow or it could be at the trade deadline, but the stars are aligned that the Super Bowl XLIX hero’s time in New England is coming to an end much sooner than fans had hoped for.