Patriots

Malcolm Butler says Patriots 'gave up' on him

Malcolm Butler says Patriots 'gave up' on him

MINNEAPOLIS -- Malcolm Butler stood with his back to reporters, trying to clasp his thick gold chain. He went at it once. No luck. Twice. Not happening. After a third try, he flung it into his backpack while muttering something under his breath. 

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Butler then turned sharply, not to face about a dozen media members waiting at his locker, but to spin out of sight and out into the night. He saluted those waiting on him and hustled for the exit. 

Before he got to the buses, Butler was stopped and asked if he was given a reason why his team -- a team that gave up 41 points in the Super Bowl -- had opted to bench him.

“No,” he told NBC Sports Boston, with an edge in his voice. He then shook his head and off he went.

McDANIELS MUM

He later realized he'd left his cellphone in the locker room, returned, and was stopped by a member of the Patriots media-relations staff. Asked if he'd take a few questions from reporters, he opted not to, threw his hands in the air and left the locker room again. 

It was a stunning end to a frustrating year. After leading the team in defensive snaps this season, including playoffs, he did not see one in his team's 41-33 loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. 

All the while, his replacements, Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi, struggled in coverage at times and missed some critical third-down tackles. Butler, a sure tackler and one of the most competitive players on the field whether he was playing well or not, could have helped. 

Bill Belichick deemed otherwise, saying repeatedly after the game that he did what was best for the team, what gave them the best chance to win.

Butler’s teammates, already in shock about the loss, had precious few answers on Butler’s status. Duron Harmon told us to "ask coach," and safety Jordan Richards stammered for a second, shrugged and eventually said he didn’t want to speak on that.

"You gotta ask the coaches," Stephon Gilmore said. "We rotate a lot in practice. We just go with the coaching staff . . . We know he's a great player, but we gotta listen to the coaches. Whatever they say we gotta do, we gotta do." 

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There were mixed messages from Patriots defensive backs after the game when it came to how much warning had been given to the team as it related to the plan with Butler. Devin McCourty told NBC Sports Boston after the game that players understood what the plan was as it related to Butler's playing time. When asked why that was the plan, McCourty said it wasn't up to the players.

Eric Rowe, meanwhile, said, "that wasn't the plan."

"It wasn't official," Rowe said, "until kickoff... I feel for [Butler]."  

Indications are that Rowe practiced opposite Gilmore this past week, but, because the Patriots tend to rotate players in practice, Rowe may not have been sure he was starting until just before the game.

Multiple players, such as Rowe, seemed taken aback by the decision not to play the Super Bowl XLIX hero. One player told NBC Sports Boston that Butler's benching wasn’t necessarily beneficial for the team Sunday night. 

Belichick said after the game that the decision not to play Butler was not disciplinary in nature. 

"We put the best -- the players out there and the game plan out there that we thought would be the best tonight," Belichick said, "like we always do."

Belichick explained that the decision was strictly football related, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia echoed those sentiments. 

"We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had," he said. "Different situations came up, and were just trying to move some things around."

Whatever the reasoning, Butler was emotional following the game. Appearing angry at times, appearing saddened at others. He was boiling when ESPN's Mike Reiss caught up with him.

"They gave up on me. F---. It is what it is," Butler said. "I don't know what it was. I guess I wasn't playing good or they didn't feel comfortable. I don't know. But I could have changed that game."

With Butler out, Rowe was targeted a team-high nine times and allowed six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Bademosi was targeted once and allowed one catch for 17 yards.

On the night, Nick Foles completed 28 of 43 pass attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

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With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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