The trade deadline came and went on Tuesday afternoon, and Malcolm Butler remained on the Patriots roster. With Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, Butler was the team's most tradable asset . . . yet the ever-aggressive Patriots decided that he would stay put.
Butler fit the profile of the kind of player the Patriots have shown in recent seasons that they're willing to move: Pro Bowl-level talent, final year of his deal, looking for a big contract.
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Why, then, is Butler still in the fold? Why didn't the Patriots get something -- a pick, a player, both -- for him in a trade? Particularly if there's a chance they lose him at the end of the season and get only a compensatory pick in return?
Here are three reasons why the 27-year-old corner might still be in the mix...
1) It takes two, baby. Even if the Patriots tried to move Butler, they needed a trade partner who a) wanted him and b) was willing to give something of value for what was only guaranteed to be eight or nine regular-season games of Butler's services. Perhaps he was considered too expensive a rental, a player whose heart is set on hitting the open market. Perhaps his age played a role. Perhaps his play this season, which waned to the point that he was taken out of the starting lineup back in September, spooked potential suitors. That's if the Patriots were looking to deal. Which brings us to No. 2.
2) Butler may have been deemed too good to let go. He had what might have been his best game in Week 7 against the Falcons, and maybe the Patriots are starting to see his play trend toward what it was in 2015 and 2016. Plus if teams around the league are looking at inactive players or players who've seen their playing time decrease -- as Bill Belichick noted in a recent conference call -- Butler doesn't exactly fit that profile. He's missed just four snaps in the last six weeks. There's also the element that the Patriots pass defense has been reeling all season, and if they dealt Butler it would make a bad situation worse. And that's looking at the situation in a vacuum. Now consider how the rest of the cornerback position looks in New England, and . . .
3) There's very little depth to lean on at corner. Johnson Bademosi has played well in emergency action against the Jets, Falcons and Lions. And Jonathan Jones seems to be around the football quite a bit (one pick, one pass breakup versus the Chargers) when called upon to play in the secondary. Outside of that pair, there's little in the way of support for Butler at the moment. Stephon Gilmore hasn't played with Week 5 as he deals with concussion and ankle issues. Even when he has played, it's been clear he's still getting things figured out in the Patriots defense. Then there's Eric Rowe, who bumped Butler from the starting lineup in Week 2 but has had a nagging groin injury that has taken him off the field. Rowe has been doing some light running as part of his rehab, but his injury may be significant enough that it needs to be managed for much of the season. If the Patriots dealt Butler, they'd be down their best and most experienced cover man at the moment.