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.

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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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Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

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Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

FOXBORO -- David Andrews was excited. He just had a hard time showing it.

The Patriots center stayed up long enough to see his team pick at No. 23 in the first round of the NFL Draft, long enough to see his Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn have his name called.

But the Thursday night prime time event isn't for everyone, and so Andrews wasn't fully conscious by the time the Patriots picked a second Bulldog, Sony Michel, at No. 31.

"I was in bed. My wife stayed up and watched it," Andrews said last week. "I was in bed and I saw Isaiah get drafted, and then I passed out. She came busting in th'.;e room about Sony getting drafted, and at that point, I really didn’t care. I was just trying to get to sleep, but . . . No, I was very happy for them. It was awesome to talk to them. They were here the next day. I didn’t really get to see them, but it’s good to see them around, see some familiar faces"

Suddenly, with five Georgia players on the roster -- Andrews, Wynn, Michel, Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins -- they now make up one of the largest contingents of players from one school in Bill Belichick's locker room.

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Iowa is right there with Georgia at five players (Aidrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Riley McCarron, Matt Tobin). Vanderbilt is next on the list with four (Adam Butler, Andrew Jelks, Jordan Matthews, Ralph Webb), even with Rutgers (Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kenny Britt). Arkansas follows closely behind with three (Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Cody Hollister).

If you look at the coaches involved in helping certain groups of players develop, the Patriots connections become even a little more clear.

At Iowa, it's Kirk Ferentz, who served as a Belichick assistant in Cleveland back in the 90s. At Vanderbilt, Belichick thinks highly enough of Derek Mason that he gave Mason and the Vandy coaching staff a behind-the-scenes look at spring workouts in New England last year. At Rutgers, Belichick's relationship with former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented.

Then there are the coaches who've bounced around a bit and impacted multiple players on the Patriots roster at different spots.

Bret Bielema, who's been helping the Patriots this offseason (and was spotted with Belichick at The Preakness this weekend), coached all three Arkansas products as well as James White during his time at Wisconsin. Bo Pellini has coached three Patriots (Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead at Nebraska, Derek Rivers at Youngstown State).

Then there's that Georgia connection. Kirby Smart coached all three Bulldog rookies as well as the two Alabama products on the Patriots roster (Dont'a Hightower, Cyrus Jones) when Smart was coaching defense for the Crimson Tide. Former Georgia coach and current Miami sideline boss Mark Richt recruited all five Georgia players currently on the Patriots roster, and he coached both Miami rookies now in New England (Braxton Berrios, Trent Harris).

Asked why Belichick and the Patriots front office would be so interested in acquiring so many players from the same school, Andrews replied, "That’s a psychology question. Man, I don’t know . . .  

"You know, no, I don’t think there’s really like one thing. I think those are some great guys. They all work really hard. They’ve been great teammates to me, so that’s something you can always respect, and it’s guys like that you love having in your locker room and playing with.

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No matter how you look at it, the Georgia connection in New England is as strong as ever.

"Georgia the new Rutgers? Oh, I’m going to have to talk to Dev and Du about that and all those guys," Andrews said with a smile. "We might be now. We’ll have to see."

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Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel won't be in the Patriots' plans at quarterback anytime soon.

The former Browns QB, Heisman winner in 2012 and first-round pick in 2014 announced on Saturday morning that he had decided to sign a contract to play in the CFL in order to "further my football career after a long break."

"I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I'm eager for what the future holds," Manziel tweeted. 

Manziel also announced that he'll be co-hosting the "Comeback Szn" podcast for Barstool Sports alongside his agent Erik Burkhardt and our buddy, former "Boston Sports Tonight" and "Football Fix" co-host, Kayce Smith.

"It's just a really good fit," Burkhardt said on "Comeback Szn." "Good offense. It's a really good league. It's been around forever, we vetted it well, and at the end of the day, like Johnny said, he wants to play ball."

Manziel, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems, has battled bipolar disorder. He will play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats under head coach June Jones, who has also coached in the NCAA and NFL ranks. Jones served as offensive coordinator of the Falcons (1991-93) before becoming their head coach (1994-96). He was also quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998 before heading to the college ranks. Jones coached at Hawaii then at SMU, where he was the first person to offer Manziel a college scholarship. 

CFL rookie contracts are for two years, meaning the Tiger-Cats will have his rights through the end of the 2019 CFL season. 

Earlier this year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the league's stance that they're not in the business of letting players break their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities.

The Patriots took a look at him this spring, but even if they had interest, the possibility of which we discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast last month, any marriage will have to wait. 

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