Few could’ve predicted this one after Super Bowl LII.
Malcolm Butler has come to an agreement with the Patriots on a two-year deal, according to a league source.
Butler was last seen in a Patriots uniform in early 2018, when his team was upset by the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Butler played just one snap in that game, on special teams. This reunion could lead to some entertaining — or awkward, or both — press conferences, but this is clearly the Patriots trying to fill an immediate and glaring need. Their cornerback room prior to Butler’s signing consisted of Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and special-teams ace Justin Bethel.
The question now is… how much can Butler help, exactly?
Butler is coming off a year away from football, citing personal reasons for his decision to step away from the Arizona Cardinals. Prior to that, he’d played three years for the Titans. One NFL evaluator who closely scrutinized Butler’s 2020 film had this to say about what he saw: “Twitchy. Good quickness. Good ball skills. Good instincts.”
In short, not all that different from what Butler put on display during his tenure in New England. But he is now 32 years old, and he is a year removed from NFL action.
For the Patriots, if he’s the same player he was two seasons ago, Butler provides starting-caliber boundary corner play. That was perhaps their most glaring need on the roster going into Wednesday. It remains a position the Patriots could very well address later this offseason, perhaps via trade or the draft.
While Butler may have enough quickness to hold up on the outside, the Patriots could still be looking to add some speed to their defense. They added some at the linebacker level by trading for Mack Wilson. But in the secondary, the group still isn’t loaded with burners.
Having Jonathan Jones return from injury will help as he is arguably the fastest player on the Patriots’ roster, but getting players with the juice to match up with the speed featured in the AFC will be critical.
The Patriots needed more speed before Tyreek Hill was traded to the Dolphins, and now it becomes even more important. Adding Butler — while potentially an effective acquisition — likely isn’t enough to address what was a speed issue in 2021.