The New England Patriots made it pretty clear cornerback Malcolm Butler wasn’t long for the team in Super Bowl LII, when the Pro Bowler was inexplicably in uniform but never stepped onto the field on defense.
But Butler has a new home, in a place where he’s clearly wanted: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Butler has agreed to a five-year, $61 million with the Tennessee Titans, with over $30 million guaranteed.
The move reunited Butler with former New England teammate and fellow corner Logan Ryan, and the Titans general manager, Jon Robinson, is also familiar with Butler, having served as the Patriots’ director of college scouting before departing for Tampa Bay.
Interestingly, Robinson wasn’t interested in pushing to get Butler to New England as a rookie free agent out of college; Butler got a contract offer from the Patriots only after a spring tryout.
Butler will be playing for former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, a first-year head coach in Tennessee.
According to a league source, Butler was interested in joining another AFC South team, the Texans; he’s good friends with Houston star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and likes the defensive personnel there. The Texans did show interest, but not enough.
The 28-year-old Butler, a Mississippi native, went from unknown to hero in a matter of months – his now-iconic goal-line interception of the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson to seal Super Bowl XLIX for New England is one of the best postseason plays in NFL history.
He was named to his first Pro Bowl the next year, and second-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2016. Indeed, Butler played in every regular-season game from 2015-17, starting all but one.
Last season, he played more snaps than any other New England defensive player in the regular season, and played every snap of both the Patriots’ divisional round win over Tennessee and the AFC Championship against Jacksonville.
He was sick in the days before New England left for the Super Bowl in Minnesota, but after medical treatment arrived a day after the team and took part in practice sessions. Team co-captain Devin McCourty said in the days after the game that Eric Rowe took the starting snaps in practice that week – but players had no idea that Butler wouldn’t play in the game at all.
Rowe struggled mightily against the Eagles, as did the other defensive backs the Patriots used.
Immediately after the game, Butler tearfully told ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss that the Patriots “gave up” on him, and almost as quickly, rumors – all false – began to crop up that Butler’s benching was a punishment.
But even Bill Belichick shot that down, keeping the question open as to why he’d kept a player who almost certainly could have helped the defense on the sidelines.
And all of that came months after Butler watched the Patriots jump at the chance to sign Stephon Gilmore in free agency last year, signing the corner to a three-year, $39 million pact; New England reportedly never offered Butler more than $7 million per during talks two years ago.
It wasn’t long ago that Butler was working at a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen in Vicksburg, Miss., making $7.25 an hour frying chicken. He’s never forgotten that as he ascended to NFL starter and Pro Bowler.