Stephon Gilmore over Malcolm Butler was the right decision.
Patriots fans will never forget what Malcolm Butler did for the team in Super Bowl XLIX. His game-winning interception of Russell Wilson on a pick play in the end zone saved New England from the jaws of defeat, and in many ways lifted the hex that had haunted Belichick and Brady in all their postseason shortcomings since the early 2000s dynasty.
When Belichick uncharacteristically pulled out his checkbook to ink Stephon Gilmore to a massive deal in free agency back in March 2017, many league observers wondered why. After all, the Patriots had just won a Super Bowl championship with Butler, Eric Rowe, Logan Ryan, and Justin Coleman playing the majority of their cornerback snaps.
Gilmore’s first season as a Patriot went a little bumpier than expected, leading some fans to wonder if perhaps Belichick had miscalculated and paid the wrong cornerback the big money. But by the time Gilmore was breaking up passes against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship, it was clear to everyone just what kind of talent he was.
Unfortunately, Gilmore’s ascension also meant the beginning of the end for Butler’s time as a Patriot. No one can blame the young Super Bowl savior for wanting to get paid like a true No. 1 starting cornerback; alas, Belichick didn’t see him that way, and when Butler was supposedly late for curfew or a team meeting in the run-up to Super Bowl LII, the surly head coach didn’t hesitate to bench him for the championship game.
The rest, as they say, is history. Butler went to play for the Tennessee Titans this season, where he was mostly average. Gilmore stuck around in New England, earned a Pro Bowl berth, may have been the league’s top corner, and sealed the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII victory with a crucial interception.
Evidently, Belichick knows a thing or two about personnel evaluation, too, in addition to coaching.