The relationship between Malcolm Butler and the New England Patriots appears to be broken. However, we can rule out them being able to fix it.
No matter what happens in the next five to ten years of Malcolm Butler’s NFL career, he will always be remembered fondly by fans of the New England Patriots.
He quite literally came out of nowhere and made one of, if not the most famous play in Super Bowl history (not to mention the hours of grief counselling that victory washed away). Not bad for an undrafted rookie who a position coach took a chance on inviting to a rookie mini-camp nine months before that.
Over the past two years he has endeared himself further to Patriots fans and the rest of the NFL by earning a starting role and establishing himself as one of the better number one corners in the league. While he did not ascend to shut down corner status, he is certainly one of the that many felt would be destined for a good to great career in the league, most likely in New England, especially given his popularity in the region earned by the great story he has helped write.
Which is what makes the Patriots actions in the past two months since they won Super Bowl LI so confusing. Butler is a restricted free agent was tendered at a bargain $3.91 million price for 2017. The feeling was that he, along with Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty were going to be the defensive stalwarts through to the end of the decade. Then on the first day of free agency, the Patriots make a rare early splash and sign Stephon Gilmore to a deal worth over $13 million per season that many thought Butler would be lucky to get. Butler was, understandably, quite annoyed with that given the reported offer of half what Gilmore received.
Talks of a trade with the Saints have been going on since free agency opened but they are now on the backburner for the time being as both teams contemplate a possible acquisition of Richard Sherman from the Seahawks.
With that in mind, the relationship between Butler and the Patriots appears to be beyond repair and it is a question of when not if he will be moved. Fans looking for some hope about this situation being salvaged can look back at some of the more contentious negotiations that have gone on in the past only for the player to stick around with the team.
One of the more hostile storylines came in 2010 when guard Logan Mankins appeared ready to (metaphorically) burn down Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place when he accused the team, in particular owner Robert Kraft, of lying to enhance the team’s position. Like Butler, Mankins was a restricted free agent due to the idiosyncrasies of the uncapped year in the last season of the previous CBA (which saw Dallas and Washington punished for breaching a nonexistent cap…). He sat out the first half of the 2010 season before returning to the team and received the franchise tag designation heading into the 2011 lockout.
Eventually, he happily returned to the team after receiving a deal which made him the highest paid guard in the league. His tough guy reputation was enhanced by the fact that in his first game after receiving the extension, he tore his ACL and continued to play through the injury for the entire season right through to the Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
More from Musket Fire
- What trading Mac Jones during the draft can do for the Patriots
- Best and worst draft picks during the Bill Belichick era
- Early round Patriots draft picks you’ll hate now, love later
- Musket Fire Roundup: Our own final predictions for round 1
- Breaking down the Patriots’ options in the 2023 NFL Draft
Throughout the 2009 season, nose tackle Vince Wilfork went through his own contract saga which also appeared set for a potential split before the big man returned to his original team. With the Patriots trading away Richard Seymour, Wilfork had plenty of leverage on the team as they had seemingly prioritized re-signing him and he was looking to cash in. There were rumblings of a holdout if he was assigned a franchise tag in the 2010 offseason and that happened in late February. That holdout never had the chance to materialize as Wilfork signed the biggest ever contract for a nose tackle barely two weeks later.
Before those stories however, there was a brash cornerback who had a big interception in a Super Bowl and contributed to a second title in three years who told reporters “that bridge is burned” between himself and the team. Ty Law made his dissatisfaction with Bill Belichick very clear in an interview during the 2004 offseason. While Law was not a restricted free agent, or even off contract at the time, he was able to find a way back to the team for 2004 and the team’s third Super Bowl in four years. He might have been released a year later but it does go to show that despite the negotiations turning sour there, the bridge could at least be temporarily rebuilt.
It certainly seems like the Patriots and Malcolm Butler are headed for a split with the way Belichick has been seemingly trying to replace him. But, if we are to learn anything from the team’s negotiating history, no situation is truly untenable and beyond repaid.