MINNEAPOLIS—There’ll be more on the line tonight than a trophy. If history holds, bags of cash could be too—starring on this stage has, in the past, been prelude to big paydays for impending free agents.
And so it is that there’s a shot at redemption staring Malcolm Butler in the face.
The hero of Super Bowl XLIX, and the No. 1 corner for the Super LI champions, Butler has been neither a savior nor the best player on his own team at his position this year. What’s interesting is that, a few days before the game, he was more than willing to admit it.
“Anything that happened to me is my fault,” Butler said in a quiet moment on Thursday. “It has nothing to do with anything else, it’s possible to just have a s----y season. It is what it is. I’m just worried about the Eagles.”
We’ve seen it in the past, for sure.
Larry Brown went from a Cowboys backup to Kevin Smith’s fill-in to a Raider and millionaire after his two picks in Super Bowl XXX. The next year Desmond Howard joined him after getting his own payday in Oakland on the heels of his 99-yard kickoff return touchdown that gave the Packers their final points in winning Super Bowl XXXI.
More recently, we saw Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith and Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson parlay big games on the biggest stage into bigger paychecks—Smith went to the Raiders in 2014, and Jackson to the Jaguars in 2016.
There are a few candidates to do the same this year. Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen and tight end Trey Burton are two guys who could be factors at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night, and could be in line for bigger roles elsewhere. Patriots right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have a shot to do the same.
But few have more on the line than Butler. And while he knows it, he’s trying his best not to think about it.
That’s good, too, because there was a point earlier in the year when he conceded that he’d let the five-year, $65 million that the Patriots gave to Stephon Gilmore—while a difficult negotiation with Butler was ongoing—mess with him. Bill Belichick saw it, too, and benched Butler in Week 2. And while he responded thereafter and reestablished himself as a starter, his season was uneven.
Still, it’s weird to hear a player actually admit he had had a sh---y season, and so we doubled back after he said it to make sure he really thought that.
“Compared to the rest of them, I do [think that],” Butler said. “I have high standards, I didn’t meet my goals. I just feel that way. There were ups and downs, a lack of consistency. But this isn’t about me; this is about the team. That’s how it is. It’s a production business. I just want to win this game. That’s what’s most important.”
Now, the flip side is that teams were interested last year, and he’s shown an ability to play at a top-of-the-league level at a position that’s not easy for anyone to fill. Proof is there in how the Saints came after him at last year—at one point, discussing making him a part of the Brandin Cooks trade, and at another, pondering sending the 32nd pick in the draft to New England for him.
His play this year, to be sure, will affect that. But stealing the show tonight would do much fix any of the damage that’s already been done. And to pull it off, Butler knows he needs a clear head.
“I treat it like my family,” Butler said. “I know they’re coming to the game, but I also know I have a task I have to handle, and that’s the game. So I just put everything to the side and focus on the moment. This is my third Super Bowl, and you never know, I may never end up in a Super Bowl again. I’m just taking it a day at a time, preparing, locking in on the Eagles and that’s really what matters right now.”
Yup, it matters now. And for Butler, and a handful of others, it may matter even more in about a month.
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