When Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots for the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and Malcolm Butler still had yet to sign his Restricted Free Agent tender with the Patriots, the talk of the town was that a second trade would be worked out between the Saints and Pats that would send Butler to New Orleans.
It was no secret that Butler and the Saints were interested in a deal. Butler “badly” wanted to come to New Orleans, and the Saints were more than willing to pay him to play. But then a trade never materialized.
At that point, if the Saints still wanted Butler for 2019, they would have to see if New England planned on franchise tagging him or re-signing him first. If Butler hit the open market, the Saints would then likely find themselves in a bidding war for the former Super Bowl XLIX hero.
Butler’s 2017 regular season was a roller coaster to say the least. He finished the year matching or setting career worst numbers almost across the board: INTs, passes defended, and fumble recoveries. His total tackles went up in 2017, but that was more a result of having to tackle receivers who already caught the ball against him than anything else. Even still, he played in 97.8% of New England’s defensive snaps over the course of the season and was one of the anchors of the Patriots defense.
And then came the Super Bowl.
Belicheck benched starting DB Malcolm Butler. Butler hiding tears during anthem. Defense got shredded. Pats lose. Matt Patricia repeats same nonsense answer in post-game. Bizarre self-sabotage. What’s the truth? #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/gjSVt4w5vt— Dan Starkey (@danstarkey19) February 5, 2018
Butler was reportedly told only right before the national anthem that he would not be playing in the game. He was visibly emotional during the national anthem, and stayed dressed for the entire contest. New England went on to allow the Eagles to score 41 points of offense, and the Eagles admitted after the game that their game plan was to target Butler’s replacement, Eric Rowe, once they realized Butler wasn’t going to see the field.
You would think that Bill Belichick, one of the greatest football minds of all time, would see the error of his ways and make the adjustment. You would think that after Nelson Agholor kept catching balls against Eric Rowe that the Patriots would at least try to see if Butler could make a difference with his physical style of play. Yeah, you would think that. And you’d be wrong.
Butler didn’t see a single non-special teams snap the entire Super Bowl. Not one.
After the game, Butler didn’t really mince words on how he felt about Billy B.’s decision to bench him:
Malcolm Butler didn't hold back. pic.twitter.com/00Vif9OscF— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 5, 2018
Do you really think Butler wants to return to New England after this? Why would he sign a contract with a team that he feels gave up on him? Sure, New England could place the franchise tag on Butler this offseason, but that would be a absolute PR nightmare at this point.
Butler’s down year in 2017 likely cost a few million dollars off his next free agent contract, and New England could have hoped that Butler might sign a discounted deal on top of that to play with a team that has a chance to win a Super Bowl next year. Last offseason, that didn’t sound like a team like New Orleans. Now, the Saints are also one of the early favorites to win it all next year. Both New England and New Orleans have veteran, Super Bowl MVP QBs at the helm, with a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and a young, and talented defense that is only one or two pieces away from being special. Oh, and both have “New” in their team names. So the teams seem almost identical (give or take a few extra Super Bowl wins).
Regardless of the similarities between the two teams, during the Super Bowl, many Saints fans were openly cheering for the Eagles:
Philly did it for the culture. And I love it! #shhh— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) February 5, 2018
But they were still showing support for Butler during and after the game. Check out this Tweet from Brian Baldinger that Michael Thomas RT’ed during the game:
.@patriots might rethink starting #EricRowe over #MalcomButler— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) February 5, 2018
And then you’ve got this Tweet from Willie Snead directly to Butler after the game (and Michael Thomas was one of many to “Like” the Tweet):
February 5, 2018
So right now, you’ve got a scorned Malcolm Butler set to become a free agent. A player whose former team kept him from making more money with a different team only to not play him in the Super Bowl. Then, that team went on to lose the Super Bowl, in part, because he wasn’t on the field. You’ve got a team in New Orleans that wanted Butler in the first place, and willing to pay him, that looks primed to contend for a Super Bowl in 2019, and where the General Manager, coach, and even the players have all shown interest and/or support.
It might not have been guaranteed that Butler would come to New Orleans this year, but it sure doesn’t look like there could be a better fit in the world right now. New England has practically pushed him out the door and onto the Saints’ doorstep.