Patriots

Butler forgets past, ignores future, focuses in on the present

Butler forgets past, ignores future, focuses in on the present

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler wants you to know he’s happy in Foxboro, even as the clock ticks toward an end date on his time here.

“Most definitely. Most definitely,” he told me, repeating those words as he often does. “This is where I’m at. I always remember where I came from. I am.”

There is a familiar refrain around the Patriots, filtered from the coach, Bill Belichick, all the way down to the practice squad players. You may have heard it once or twice . . . 

”Ignore the noise.” 

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For the better part of the last six months, that has been challenging for Butler. A prideful man, he was stung not only by the Pats' unwillingness to pay him what he thinks he’s worth but also by the blindsiding, first-day free-agent payout to former Buffalo Bill Stephon Gilmore. That’s been well-documented by this writer dating back to those wildly emotional days, something Butler -- in quiet moments -- reaffirmed that to me initially and later to both the media throng and the Sunday Night Football crew prior to Atlanta game last weekend. That pain will never go away, but Butler is doing his best to dull it.

“You try not to think about,” he said. “You try . . . The only thing I can do is play the best I can and try to pick it up another notch, which I am, which I will do. Every single one of us [will].”

Butler’s inconsistency has been uncommon. In each of his previous two seasons, you could almost guarantee what kind of performance you were going to get from the ultra-competitive cornerback. This year? Not so much.

Has Butler been distracted? Has the uncertainty of his future weighed on him? 

“No, not really,” he insisted. “I’m the type of guy that lives a day at a time -- or tries. We all try. That’s what we should do. I just try to live one day at a time. You never know what could happen at any time.”

Professionally, that was hammered home to Butler when Gilmore got $31 million guaranteed from Belichick and the Pats. There’s no question that’s not an easy pill to swallow and created an odd dynamic for Butler to navigate around and through.

I asked him about this relationship with Gilmore and what it’s been like.

“Steph is a good, good guy,” he stated. “We help each other. Everything is kind of new for him, but no excuses. I enjoy playing with him. He loves playing the game just like I do. Everybody loves him, including myself . . . "

Butler steered the conversation back to football because he’d would rather the attention be focused on his play. That’s why -- on occasion -- he’s passed on making himself available to reporters until game day, although as a veteran of this market he says knowingly “all of this comes with the territory. You just gotta take it as it comes and keep rolling.”

Finding that roll has been difficult. There was the snaps reduction in New Orleans and communication issues that were evident as recently as two Sundays ago against the Jets. But Butler made two huge plays in that win over New York and then backed it up with his best performance of the season in the Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons. It wasn’t just the competitive coverage versus significantly bigger receivers Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, but also his fearlessness playing run force, a trademark of Butler’s during his time here. The 27-year-old was excited not only about his play, but the play of the entire group.

“You just feel it as a group,” he said. “You feel it during the week. You feel like everyone is coming together, everyone is gelling together. It wasn’t going to happen in the first game or second game. Sometimes it does -- but for the most part, it takes time to build one unit, together. We’re building and we’e coming along well.”

He added, “We’re speaking the right language. We want to stay on the one side . . . the good side.”

But lest you get too far ahead of yourself, Butler cautioned that one game is just that one game. That consistency from game to game -- and play to play -- is critical in this defense becoming the defense it believes it can be.

“We just have to all get on the same page and find a rhythm," he said. "You can’t just have one game that’s a really great game or one player have a good game, or several players even. We all have to do that. That will bring a lot of momentum toward the team.”

A team that Butler may not belong to once the season comes to an end. But right now it seems to have his full attention.

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Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

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Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

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 to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 

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HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 

 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.

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