Dare I say, it’s not been easy being Malcolm Butler this offseason, despite what a vocal minority of the Twitter mob thinks. Not only couldn’t Butler get a long-term extension from the Patriots, but his hopes of another cornerback-needy team swooping in and offering him unrestricted free agent dollars when he was, in fact, a restricted free agent didn’t come to fruition either, though not without a fair amount of effort from the New Orleans Saints.
That left Butler with limited options, report to the Pats under the one-year tender, or hold out and risk not getting a new deal and also not getting a year of service time on the road to UFA status. So Butler showed up for voluntary workouts, intent on putting his best foot forward, no matter how much it stings.
“Past is the past,” said Butler when asked about the offseason and his contract.
Yesterday, Bill Belichick wouldn’t delve deep either when asked about what he’s seen from Butler this spring.
“He’s been here,” said the Pats head coach, who always manages to take questions as literal as possible when it best suits his interest.
But Butler’s secondary-mate Devin McCourty was more than willing to elaborate on Malcolm’s approach, after what has been a long, strange and - at times - difficult offseason for the 27-year old cornerback.
“This is what he does” said McCourty after mini-camp practice Wednesday. “I think you go back to ’14 when he got here, he kind of made a name for himself going out there and competing, picking off passes, making plays. Now it's the same thing. Once he got back, whether it was a conditioning run, it was competing, getting out here playing football. That's what Malcolm does. I think that's natural for any football player. Once you get out here, you're just competing. No matter what happened off the field. It hasn't bothered him to me, that I've seen, in any way.”
When you consider how contract issues sent Jamie Collins down a path that eventually led to him being traded during the season a year ago, this is welcome news for the Pats. Of course, it bears watching, especially as Butler will be reminded often about how the Pats gave number one cornerback money to former Bills first rounder, Stephon Gilmore, but not to a player that’s grown up and flourished in their system.
Yes, it was the Pats' right to wield the hammer if those chose, courtesy of the current rules of the CBA, but there was some surprise within the locker room that Butler didn’t get paid, at least not yet. But instead of wallowing in that disappointment, Butler has been a driving force throughout the spring program, trying to remain one of the guys, if not "the guy."
“I think the beauty of playing in the secondary is that stuff doesn't matter because, at the end of the day, it's all about how we play as a unit,” said McCourty. “To me, that's been the cool thing, to see guys talking more, to see guys laughing and joking, Steph (Gilmore) fitting into the group like he's been here for years. To me, that's the key, and that's what I've seen so far. Which we've tried to do every year no matter if we had three new guys or one new guy, even with the rookies, trying to get them in and not feel as much like rookies, but as guys that can contribute and play. Because I think that's the key. Some of those guys every year are going to go out there, we're going to need them in games. We want them to feel together and a part of the group as much as anybody else. “
Said Butler a couple of weeks ago, “I’m here. I’m here. This is my team.”
A team that, for this season, is most certainly better with Butler here, being the same player he’s developed into. If he can maintain that level, the money will eventually come.c