Malcolm Butler Returning To Patriots In Remarkable Reunion For Corner

The Super Bowl hero is returning to Foxboro


Mar 23, 2022

Four years after his infamous Super Bowl benching, Malcolm Butler is back with the New England Patriots.

The veteran cornerback on Wednesday signed a two-year contract with the Patriots worth up to $9 million, agent Derek Simpson told The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin and ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Butler visited New England for a tryout on Monday. Out of football in 2021 after abruptly retiring for personal reasons last September, the 32-year-old’s return addresses a glaring need for the Patriots, who lacked depth and talent at cornerback after losing Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson to the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency.

Best known for his iconic game-sealing interception in Super Bowl XLIX, Butler broke into the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2014 and spent his first four seasons with the Patriots, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 and earning second-team All-Pro honors in 2016. He also was part of New England’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s.

Butler played a team-high 97.8% of defensive snaps during the 2017 season and didn’t leave the field in the first two games of the ’17 postseason. But against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, head coach Bill Belichick chose not to play him, giving Butler only one snap on special teams even as Nick Foles shredded the Patriots’ secondary. New England lost 41-33, and Belichick still has yet to publicly explain the most puzzling decision of his storied career.

Any lingering ill will from that decision seemed to have dissipated by the following offseason, however, with Butler, who signed a five-year, $61 million contract with Tennessee a month after the Super Bowl, joking about it during a week of Patriots-Titans joint practices.

“I enjoyed my time (in New England),” Butler said in August 2019. “Everything happened for a reason, and I’m still happy. I’m still in the NFL. I still have a great relationship with those guys. It’s all good. … It’s the past, man. I’m past that.”

Butler spent three seasons with the Titans, playing in 41 games with 36 starts. He was released last offseason after tallying a career-high 111 tackles with four interceptions and 14 passes defended in 2020. He latched on with the Arizona Cardinals and was expected to enter the 2021 season as a starter before announcing his retirement shortly before Week 1.

Asked about Butler around the time of his (temporary) retirement, Belichick called the West Alabama product “a great story” and said he enjoyed coaching him.

“You’re talking about a kid that’s undrafted, really couldn’t even get into a training camp,” Belichick said on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” last September. “And then, when we brought him up here for a rookie minicamp tryout — he wasn’t even signed when brought him up here — to see the fact that he had talent, and to see him grow and develop as a player, as a person when he was here, and what his four years of play here meant to this organization, it’s pretty impressive.

“I always enjoyed coaching Malcolm, and I have a lot of respect for the way he competed and what he did, very similar to (former Patriots receiver) David Patten, coming from nowhere and establishing (himself) and having a really good NFL career.”

Butler joins a cornerback group that features 2021 starter Jalen Mills, top slot option Jonathan Jones, veteran newcomer Terrance Mitchell and returning reserves Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Justin Bethel. Given the uncertainty surrounding Butler’s abilities after his year away from the game, New England could look to further bolster this unit through the 2022 NFL Draft.

Butler also tried out for the Houston Texans and Las Vegas Raiders — organizations led by ex-Patriots coaches and/or executives — before landing back in New England.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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