The New England Patriots reunited with a old friend on Wednesday. The Super Bowl XLIX hero who was benched a few years later in Super Bowl LII has returned to wear the flying Elvis logo. CB Malcolm Butler signed a 2-year deal to come back to the Patriots after being released from the retired list by Arizona last month. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all with Bill Belichick, he pulls an extremely surprising heal-turn. The relationship had clearly soured leading up to Super Bowl LII, which was ultimately his last game in a Patriots uniform (the first stint) despite his pivotal role on the defense. All the personal aside, the Patriots are in desperate need for defensive back depth after losing top CB J.C. Jackson and Butler is certainly a guy who can step right in and contribute.
When the news came out that they brought Butler in for a visit a few days ago, I was shocked and figured it was just them kicking the tires on as many players as possible. To have the visit result in a 2-year up to $9 million contract is jaw-dropping. What must the conversations have been like when they were negotiating or asking him to sign in New England? Was Bill involved in the conversation and if so, did they talk about the benching in Super Bowl LII? I have so many questions about how this all went down and what the future will bring for this rekindled relationship.
Butler was responsible for one of the greatest plays in Patriots postseason history and will forever be remembered for that moment. Down 4 pts with 26 seconds remaining and the ball on the 1-yard line, rather than handing it off to their powerful RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Russell Wilson dropped back and threw a slant pass in the direction of WR Tyler Lockett. Butler read the play and stepped in front to intercept the pass and seal the Super Bowl victory. The Patriots win probability before the play was 12%, but it felt even lower watching it in real time. That one beautiful play forever cemented his name in Patriots lore.
In his 4 seasons with the Patriots, Butler amassed 8 INTs, 47 passes deflected, 4 forced fumbles and 172 solo tackles. He made one Pro Bowl and won 2 Super Bowl rings. The Patriots may have had a third ring if he wasn’t benched in Super Bowl LII and the defense allowed 41 points to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. CB Eric Rowe took his place in the game and allowed 137 yards on 6/7 against him. It’s to this day one of the more puzzling decisions I’ve seen Bill Belichick make. A player who can contribute and help you win a championship is essentially a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. Obviously whatever the real reason for the benching is ancient history.
This could be a sneaky good move for the Patriots. Butler is not J.C. Jackson and the defensive back group is definitely not as good as last year, but Butler is a low-risk, high reward signing. After three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Butler signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He ended up leaving the team for personal reasons at the end of camp and decided to sit out 2021. Butler could be fresher and more motivated to prove himself at 32 years old. The Patriots clearly like what they saw when he visited this week, which makes me think he’s still got the skills. He’s a veteran who knows what it’s like to win in New England and knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run. He knows the play book and despite being gone for 5 seasons, should be able to fall right back into the routine. It’s certainly possible this doesn’t work, but I have a sneaky feeling it will be a great reunion.
Now that the big free agents are gone, it may be time for some more bargain signings and perhaps a trade or two to get this Patriots roster back to playoff ready. Did somebody say wide receiver?