BOSTON (CBS) — In the nearly seven months since the Patriots won Super Bowl LI in dramatic fashion, it has certainly been an interesting stretch for Malcolm Butler.
The Patriots cornerback entered the offseason a restricted free agent, and after months of negotiations he didn’t receive a long-term deal from New England. Instead, he watched the team give a monster contract to free agent Stephon Gilmore, who has taken over that No. 1 corner role since his arrival. Butler heard his name in trade talks leading up to the NFL Draft, but is back on a one-year deal that will make him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Though Butler has shown up for every practice with a smile on his face, with his impending free agency out of his focus, he has struggled during preseason play. Opposing quarterbacks are picking on his side of the field with Gilmore roaming the other, leading to a heavy workload for Butler. That’s led to some mixed results, with receivers that Butler was tasked with shutting down hauling in two touchdown passes over the last two weeks.
Butler said his preseason performance was been below his standards and that he can improve in “all areas.” The Pro Bowl corner has gone through struggles before, and isn’t panicking.
“I’m better than that. I will be better than that,” Butler told reporters on Tuesday. “No need to panic. That’s how I feel about it, so there’s that.”
It hasn’t been all bad for Butler, New England’s No. 1 corner in each of the last two seasons. On Friday night in Detroit, he forced a turnover with a smart play to punch a ball loose from Lions receiver Golden Tate. He also made a deflection on an interception by fellow corner Eric Rowe, so he has shown a nose for the ball once again. Butler just needs to get back to his consistent self, and knows he can do so.
He won’t get that chance on Thursday against the New York Giants. New England’s Opening Night tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs is only seven days after the preseason finale, so just about every New England starter is expected to sit that one out. As a starter with his roster spot secure, Butler will get to enjoy that one from the sidelines.
But it was only a few years ago that an undrafted corner out of West Alabama won his roster spot in that final preseason game, so the importance of that otherwise meaningless affair isn’t lost on Butler.
“You want to make a name for yourself and make plays. You want somebody else to see your game,” he said of being on the roster bubble in the preseason finale. “You just have to work hard and stay focused.”
And when Butler and the Patriots see the field again, expect the corner to be better than what we saw during the preseason.