“Malcom, Go” has become “Malcolm, Come Back”
Former New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler will forever be remembered for living the moment which most athletes dream of, yet seldom achieve.
With 20 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks were in position to score on the Patriots' one-yard line. Poised to erase a four-point New England lead, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson attempted to find wide receiver Ricardo Lockette on a slat route at the goal line. Butler got the quick jump on Lockette and intercepted Wilson’s pass, returning possession to the Patriots and preserving a 28-24 victory and New England’s fifth Super Bowl championship.
While mostly everyone expected Seattle to hand the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch, Butler showed the prowess and instinct which would earn him a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, and a second-team All-Pro nod in 2016. The Pats corner recognized Wilson’s intentions, having read the Seahawks’ two-receiver stack formation. Eyeing Lockette as a potential target, Butler made the pick and sealed the win for New England "From preparation [by then-Pats’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in practice], I remembered the formation they were in ... I just beat him to the route and made the play." The interception was the first of Butler's NFL career. It was the only interception of a pass attempt from the one-yard line during the 2014 NFL season, out of 109 such attempts.
Seven years later, Butler has returned to the place where it all began as an undrafted rookie free agent from West Alabama. As reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter [through Butler’s agent Derek Simpson], the Pats and the 32-year-old cornerback have agreed on a two-year deal, worth up to $9 million. The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin was the first report that New England was hosting Butler for a workout on Monday.
The veteran defensive back had been released from the reserve/retired list by the Arizona Cardinals last month, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Déjà vu In the Defensive Backfield
In addition to his ‘claim to fame’ moment in Super Bowl XLIX, Butler spent 2014 to 2017 with the Patriots, spending much of that time as the team’s top player at the position. In his four-years with the Patriots, Butler amassed 205 total tackles, 47 passes-defensed, four forced fumbles [of which he recovered two] and eight interceptions. In New England, he became a two-time Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI), a second-team All-Pro (2016), a Pro Bowl selection (2015); all of which earned him a spot on the New England Patriots 2010s All-Decade Team.
However, his New England tenure came to an acrimonious end at the conclusion of the 2017 season by getting benched in Super Bowl LII. It would be Butler’s final game with the team.
Butler and the Patriots lost Super Bowl LII to the Philadelphia Eagles, 41–33. Butler did not play any defensive snaps in the game, only coming in for a single play on special teams. After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said his lack of playing time was a "coach's decision," and not due to disciplinary issues as many have speculated. When asked about the benching, Butler stated "I don't know what it was. I guess I wasn't playing good or they didn't feel comfortable. I don't know. But I could have changed that game." By the following morning, reports claimed that Belichick acknowledged a "much longer discussion" could occur regarding Butler's absence on defense from the game. It was also revealed that Butler was demoted in practice during the Wild Card round of the playoffs, during which the Patriots had a bye week.
In March 2018, Butler signed a five-year, $61 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. During his three years in Music City, he continued to play at a high level, compiling 201 total tackles, 35 passes-defensed and nine interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. After being cut by the Titans in March 2021, Butler signed a deal with the Arizona Cardinals. However, he was with Arizona for a few only a few months in 2021 before calling it a career in August.
Despite his absence from the field in 2021, Butler should be expected to add experience and depth to the Patriots secondary. In 2020, he was still among the league’s top coverage corners, primarily in zone coverage. With the Patriots having lost free agent cornerback J.C. Jackson to the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month, the team was in need of depth at the position.
Butler joins fellow corners Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, and the recently added Terrance Mitchell in the Patriots secondary.