Malcolm Butler could've stayed at home. He could've continued to make it clear that he wasn't happy with his contract situation. He could've let his teammates prepare for the 2017 season without him.
Instead, this week, as the Patriots began Phase 2 of their offseason training program, Butler returned to Gillette Stadium for workouts.
Because these sessions are optional, Butler would not have taken any kind of financial hit by staying away unless his absences stretched into June's mandatory minicamp. But by reporting for work he has indicated that he's ready to move on after spending the last couple of months hoping for a new deal -- whether from the Patriots or someone else.
The Patriots placed the first-round tender, worth $3.91 million, on Butler in early March. Yet Butler did not sign on the dotted line until April 18. The team then had a little over a week to attempt to trade Butler before the draft, but a deal was never struck. (The one team that Butler visited as a restricted free agent, the Saints, drafted a corner in the first round with the No. 11 overall pick.)
Now that it appears as though Butler will be with the Patriots in 2017, he's checked back into the office to train. Phase 2 lasts three weeks, and players are allowed to work with coaches on the field. Offense versus defense drills are prohibited, as are one-on-one drills and anything that would require players to wear helmets.
As Patriots players slowly ramped up the intensity of their workouts, they were happy to see Butler back.
"We have him now so we’re good," Patrick Chung said following the AccesSportAmerica football clinic at Harvard Stadium on Wednesday. "He’s a great player. He’s a funny dude. It’s good to have him back. Now we can get going."
Butler will team up with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones to help make up the cornerback depth chart in New England.
The pairing of Butler and Gilmore is particularly interesting not only because they'll make up one of the most talented corner duos in the league, but the Patriots paid a big-money free-agent contract to Gilmore just days after they placed the restricted free agent tender on Butler.
It probably won't be until after the 2017 season, when Butler is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, that the Super Bowl XLIX hero will be able to realize the kind of long-term contract Gilmore received.