Malcolm Butler

Patriots Were Open To Re-Signing Malcolm Butler

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick‘s decision to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII was one of the league’s top storylines immediately after the Super Bowl, and even though Butler had unequivocally stated just a few days prior that he wanted to remain in New England in 2018 and beyond, the benching suggested to everyone that Butler would not be returning to the Patriots.

And indeed, although reports suggested that a number of teams expressed interest in Butler, who became an unrestricted free agent in March, the Patriots were not one of the teams named in those reports. But Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes that New England was, in fact, open to a Butler return. The team reportedly told Butler’s agent to reach out if he could not garner a free agent contract to his liking, and Rapoport even suggests that the Pats were prepared to pay Butler $10MM per season. That report is even more surprising in light of the fact that the Patriots were prepared to trade Butler to New Orleans before the 2017 season even began and again at the 2017 trade deadline.

Of course, Butler ended up accepting a five-year, $61.25MM contract with the Titans, and Tennessee may now be wishing that Butler had taken New England up on its offer. Butler regressed in 2017, and he has not been able to return to form in Nashville. Advanced metrics peg him as one of the worst cornerbacks in the game this year, and although Rapoport confirms a report from earlier this week that the Titans do not plan to relieve Butler of his starting duties at the moment, he will need to improve considerably in order to play out the remainder of his contract.

Butler will have a chance to rebound against his old team today, as the Patriots are in Tennessee for an early afternoon matchup.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Rumors: Irvin, Dez, Fitz, Titans

Bruce Irvin clearing waivers and landing with the Falcons gives him a chance to earn nearly $10MM this season. His one-year (or, eight-game) Falcons deal is worth $1.5MM, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports. Irvin was playing on an $8MM salary with the Raiders this season, and Florio notes he can recoup the balance of that salary ($3.76MM) by filing a termination pay claim. Vested veterans (at least four seasons’ experience) can do this one in their careers, and this may be the most money Irvin, 31, can claim through this measure. Total, the seventh-year veteran can collect $9.75MM this season. Considering he entered the year with no more guarantees remaining in his deal, that’s not a bad haul.

Here’s more from the Irvin front, along with the latest from the South divisions:

  • With Irvin rejoining a Dan Quinn defense, this one housing recent first-round defensive ends Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley, he won’t be the unquestioned top edge rusher like he was in Oakland. However, Quinn — who coached Irvin with the Seahawks — is planning a NASCAR package with the three ends and Grady Jarrett, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Quinn said the team will use the trio on the field together in practice this week in preparation to deploy the speed set a game at some point. The Falcons’ 17 sacks rank 27th in the league. Beasley has just one and is Pro Football Focus’ worst-graded full-time edge defender this season.
  • A six-plus-month stay in free agency ended for Dez Bryant earlier Wednesday, but the new Saints wide receiver is still looking to return to the market in 2019. Bryant wants to prove himself on a contending team and become a free agent again, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes. This has been Bryant’s plan all along, and he’ll likely join Tre’Quan Smith as a key complementary receiver for Drew Brees.
  • The Buccaneers won’t be pivoting back to Jameis Winston this week. Dirk Koetter confirmed (via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine) Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter in Week 10. Although Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions in a 42-28 loss to the Panthers, he led the Bucs back from 35-7 and made it a one-score game. Tampa Bay ranks first in pass offense (356.6 yards per game) by more than 30 yards.
  • The TitansMalcolm Butler signing hasn’t worked out the way the team had hoped yet. Signed to a five-year, $61.25MM deal, Butler has struggled in coverage and rates as PFF’s No. 98 cornerback through eight games. Mike Vrabel, though, does not plan to bench Butler. The first-year coach attributes some of the defender’s woes to reading the wrong keys, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.
  • Tennessee may have to temporarily demote Jack Conklin, though. The right tackle starter is in concussion protocol after the Titans’ win over the Cowboys. Conklin already missed this season’s first four games because of the ACL tear he suffered in last year’s playoffs. Conklin has started five games this year and was on the field for all 32 Tennessee regular-season contests during his first two NFL seasons.

Extra Points: Manziel, Thomas, Bolts, Browns

It does not appear the Johnny Manziel saga will return to the NFL until at least the end of the decade. Manziel’s two-year contract with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats is a binding deal, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweets no escape clause for the purposes of venturing to the NFL exists in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The CFL previously voted on a possible escape-hatch option, but the proposal was rejected. La Canfora adds Manziel’s professional football options will come exclusively in Canada for the next two years (Twitter link). The NFL may be a faraway bridge considering how the former Heisman Trophy winner fared in his two years with the Browns and the many months that went by without any team showing significant interest.

As for Manziel’s deal, La Canfora reports (on Twitter) the 25-year-old passer will earn a $122K base salary in 2018. An additional $10K signing bonus is included, as well as an $18K housing stipend. La Canfora adds $10K escalators will trigger if Manziel hits six-, 10- and 14-game benchmarks this season. He’ll receive a $120K bonus if he plays in half the snaps, per JLC, and a $75K offseason bonus is due on March 1, 2019. Manziel’s 2019 salary spikes to $202K, and the same incentives are present.

Shifting back to the NFL, here’s the latest:

  • In supporting his former Seahawks teammate, Richard Sherman revealed a bit about Earl Thomas‘ goals for what will be his third NFL contract. “I think Earl Thomas deserves the money he’s asking for,” Sherman told former teammate and current NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson on Saturday (via NFL.com). “I think he deserves to be compensated as the top safety in the league. Whether Seattle does that or not is up to them.” Financial figures haven’t really emerged regarding this potential standoff, but if the Seahawks are to pay top dollar for their three-time All-Pro defender, it will cost them more than $13MM per year. And that could be a bridge too far for a retooling team that’s dangled Thomas in trades. When Thomas agreed to his initial Seattle extension, his $10MM-per-year salary paced NFL safeties. Five are now ahead of him.
  • Hue Jackson has repeatedly said he would like Tyrod Taylor to start throughout this season. But cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot does not see the Browns opting to re-sign Taylor after this season. She expects Mayfield to make a serious charge for the starting role at some point this season. If it turns out Taylor is a catalyst that leads the Browns to a major turnaround, Cabot expects him to hit the market as a coveted commodity — and one the Browns will not be paying for — in 2019.
  • The Chargers drafted Kevin White‘s younger brother, Kyzir White, in the fourth round. And the Bolts will move Kyzir from safety to linebacker, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Denzel Perryman has one of Los Angeles’ linebacker spots locked down, with Kyle Emanuel and former seventh-round pick Hayes Pullard tentatively slotted in the other spots. The Bolts also drafted USC’s Uchenna Nwosu in the second round. But it doesn’t appear White will factor into the Bolts’ safety picture behind Jahleel Addae and Derwin James at this time.
  • The Saints gave UDFA tight end Deon Yelder $90K guaranteed to sign, Joel Erickson of The Advocate notes. A former wide receiver recruit at Western Kentucky, Yelder spent time behind current Rams tight end Tyler Higbee and current Seahawks left tackle George Fant while with the Hilltoppers prior to receiving plenty of playing time last season. New Orleans has struggled to replace Jimmy Graham and recently cut Coby Fleener. Yelder will try to make a team that has 37-year-old Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill atop its depth chart.
  • In a lower-stakes matter, the Patriots have $215 committed to Malcolm Butler on this year’s payroll, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Apparently, one day of workout cash last offseason didn’t get tallied until now.

This Date In Transactions History: Malcolm Butler

Three years ago today, the Patriots signed several rookies, including fourth-round pick center Bryan Stork and sixth-round guard Jon Halapio. However, New England’s most important move seemingly flew under the radar, as they also signed an undrafted free agent who’d go on to become a Super Bowl hero.

On May 19th, 2014, New England inked undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler to a deal. The West Alabama product was plenty productive during his collegiate career, earning himself a pair of First-Team All-GSC nods. However, the cornerback ended up going undrafted in the 2014 draft, and it took him more than a week to finally latch on with an NFL team. Butler was surprisingly productive during his rookie campaign, compiling 15 tackles and three passes defended for New England. However, his most notable performance was during Super Bowl XLIX, when he picked off a Russell Wilson pass attempt for the championship-winning interception.

Butler parlayed that Super Bowl performance into a starting gig with the Patriots, and he proceeded to earn a 2015 Pro Bowl appearance after finishing with 67 tackles, 15 passes defended, and two interceptions. Following another productive 2016 campaign, Butler and the Patriots seemingly butted heads during the 2017 offseason. The team assigned a first-rounder tender to the restricted free agent (which he ultimately signed), and they proceeded to sign Stephon Gilmore to a lucrative $65MM contract. Butler was demoted to the second spot on the depth chart, and the Patriots’ manipulation of his contract situation led to some ill will.

Butler was productive again in 2017, but he was mysteriously benched during the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. Butler ended up bolting for Tennessee back in March, signing a five-year, $61MM contract ($30MM guaranteed).

Fortunately for the Patriots, they probably never expected that kind of production from an undrafted rookie. On the flip side, when Butler made the game-winning interception during the Super Bowl, they probably never thought that he’d willingly leave the organization three years later.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Panthers, Broncos, Cravens, Jets, Titans

Labeled as a frontrunner in the bidding to become the new Panthers owner, businessman Ben Navarro will make a visit to the team’s facilities next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (Twitter link). Person also notes another suitor, Alan Kestenbaum, was in on Wednesday.

A vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated. The last franchise that was sold, the Bills in 2014, went for $1.4 billion.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Navarro is already being vetted by the NFL. The South Carolina businessman is the founder of Sherman Financial, but some owners have had concerns about how Navarro made his money.

Navarro and Kestenbaum are joined by Steelers minority owner and hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the perceived top contenders to acquire the franchise. The reported sale price has already helped one potential suitor, Michael Rubin, withdraw his name from the running. Rubin’s group reportedly included Sean “Diddy” Combs and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Thanks to a video produced by Sports Illustrated, we have some insights into the offers received by cornerback Malcolm Butler before he agreed to sign with the Titans. Early on, the Bears pitched him on a three-year, $30MM deal while the Texans offered a one-year contract (value unknown). It seems that Tennessee greatly outbid the other suitors after signing him to a five-year, $61.25MM deal with $24MM fully guaranteed.
  • For their offseason so far, the Jets have received a grade of B- from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Considering the team whiffed in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, that’s not a bad grade to receive. Cimini cites, among other things, the team’s addition of Trumaine Johnson as the team’s most significant offseason signing so far.
  • Su’a Cravens, who was acquired by the Broncos from the Redskins earlier this week, told Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post he wanted to play for a team that wanted him. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team,” he said. Cravens sat out the entire 2017 season as a member of the Redskins. “I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins. It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.

AFC Contract Details: Butler, Johnson, Bridgewater

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Extra Points: Butler, Shead, Rams, Chiefs

It’s been a wild ride for the Seahawks defense the past week. After the team traded Michael Bennett to the Eagles and released Richard Sherman, it also decided to release cornerback DeShawn Shead.

This was noteworthy because the Seahawks told the player it would release him to allow him to become an unrestricted free agent despite the NFL saying his contract should toll for 2018.

Earlier today, Shead signed with the Lions but reportedly wanted a return to the Seahawks, the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta tweets. After Seattle honored its statement to make the cornerback a free agent, Shead wanted to give Seattle every chance to keep him, but the organization ultimately wouldn’t match the offer he received from the Lions.

Seattle now enters free agency without three of its top veterans and could be seeing the end of the Earl Thomas era, who has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a new deal. The Seahawks could deal him this offseason and are reportedly looking for a first-round pick in return.

Needless to say, the Seahawks once-stingy defensive unit will look plenty different in 2018.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Rams general manager Les Snead said on Wednesday the team traded linebacker Alec Ogletree to accommodate the ensuing move for cornerback Aqib Talib, Alden Gonzalez tweets. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prefers cornerbacks to linebackers in his scheme, and a big move had to be made to bring in the former Broncos corner, who will count $11 MM toward the cap.
  • Snead also said he sees ways the Rams can address run defense and the pass rush in free agency, Gonzalez tweets. Though he is weighing what will be available to fill those holes with rookies, he doesn’t want to just wait until the draft to fill obvious needs. The team received some insurance for its pass rush on Wednesday when it re-signed veteran linebacker Connor Barwin.
  • New Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler said he was worried his Super Bowl benching would hurt his value on the open market, USA Today’s Lindsay Jones tweets. Butler notoriously didn’t see the field against the Eagles in February when the Patriots allowed Nick Foles to shred their secondary. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection reached a deal with the Titans on Wednesday worth up to $61 MM over five years, with $30 MM of that being guaranteed.
  • Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said cornerback Marcus Peters‘ trade to the Rams had nothing to do with national anthem protests, Pro Football Talk passes along“This was a football decision. … This wasn’t just one game, wasn’t a month, this was three years of body of work, and we look for consistency. We felt that this was in the best interest of the team,” Veach said. 
  • Veach also touched on the Chiefs move for Sammy Watkins, saying the team pounced on the receiver in the first minute of free agency, the NFL Network’s James Palmer tweets. Veach said that if Watkins received a call before theirs, the other team would’ve had to call in 30 seconds before they did. The team was motivated to move on Watkins to add him to Tyreek Hill, giving strong-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes a pair of dynamic, stretch-the-field receivers.

Contract Details: Brees, Butler, T. Johnson

Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless otherwise noted:

Titans To Sign CB Malcolm Butler

Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are reuniting. This time, it’s in Tennessee. Butler intends to sign with the Titans when free agency formally opens on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Butler gets a five-year contract worth more than $61MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal includes more than $30M guaranteed. 

Butler had interest from multiple teams, including the Texans and the Saints. The Jets, who are said to be seeking two starting-caliber corners, also likely had Butler high atop their list. A return to incumbent Patriots, meanwhile, seemed unlikely after Butler was benched for the overwhelming majority of the Super Bowl.

Had Butler reached unrestricted free agency last offseason, he would have had piles of money thrown at him. However, he was a restricted free agent and the Pats prevented him from joining the Saints when they could not agree to terms on a trade. This time around, Butler was an unfettered free agent and still got paid oodles of money, despite coming off of a down year.

Butler will now collect more than the tentative agreement — four years, ~$50MM — that he’d agreed to with the Saints in 2017. The Patriots, meanwhile, never offered Butler more than $7MM annually.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Interested In Malcolm Butler

The Texans are among several NFL teams with interest in cornerback Malcolm Butler, sources tell Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). As reported earlier today, the Saints are also among the teams looking into the Patriots free agent

Butler was conspicuously absent from the Super Bowl and did not look like his usual self in 2017. Still, he stands as one of the very best cornerbacks available in this year’s crop. Last week, PFR’s Dallas Robinson ranked Butler as the No. 2 CB available, ahead of Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Morris Claiborne, Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Prince Amukamara. He trailed only Trumaine Johnson on the list.

Cornerback is high on the Texans’ agenda after Kevin Johnson disappointed and Kareem Jackson turned in an up-and-down season. In hindsight, the Texans probably wish that they made a stronger effort to retain A.J. Bouye last offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.