The Patriots have 22 players set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 17. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at New England’s free agents.
Up next: defensive tackle Adam Butler.
2020 stats: 34 tackles, four sacks, seven quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, two passes defended (15 games)
Likelihood of return: Moderate
Analysis: How much did Butler’s shoulder injury hinder him during the first half of the 2020 season? The numbers speak for themselves.
Over New England’s first nine games, Butler managed just eight total pressures, zero sacks, one tackle for loss and four run stops, per Pro Football Focus — a sharp decline from the career-best numbers he tallied in 2019.
After sitting out a game (a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans) for the first time in his four-year NFL career, Butler returned revitalized. The 26-year-old racked up 19 pressures, four sacks, five TFLs and 10 run stops over the Patriots’ final six games, leading all New England defenders in the first three categories during that span. He also batted two passes, one of which resulted in an Adrian Phillips interception.
“I’ve had some challenges throughout the season,” Butler said after terrorizing Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in Week 12. “It’s no secret I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury, and I’ve just been fighting like hell to get back. It’s really tough to be yourself when you’re in a position like that, for anybody.”
Butler has been the Patriots’ best interior pass rusher for the past two seasons. New England retained him on a restricted free agent tender last March. Now, he’s set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time.
Keeping Butler and fellow UFA Lawrence Guy in the fold while also adding pieces to their undermanned D-line would be a win for the Patriots, but it’s unclear what Butler’s market will be as the NFL salary cap shrinks this offseason. Undersized at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, he’s improved against the run in recent years but still is most effective in pass-rushing situations.
Butler addressed his impending free agency during a recent appearance on the “Two Minute Drill” podcast. He’d be open to re-signing, he said, but is considering all options.
“I’ve been very humbled by this experience,” Butler said, as transcribed by Pats Pulpit. “I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go in the NFL. This has definitely helped me understand this is a privilege more so than it is a right. Wherever my opportunity shows up, or the best opportunity for me shows up, I’m definitely going to take it. …
“If it’s New England, that’s great. I love New England. I love playing there. I’ve developed a lot of relationships with Coach (Bill) Belichick, Mr. (Robert) Kraft and a lot of other people there. I love New England, but at the end of the day, I think everybody just has to do what’s best for them. And that’s what I plan on doing.”