The MMQB has a piece today on Richard Sherman’s “Cornerback Summit” in which he, Aqib Talib and handful of other top corners got together in Palo Alto to exchange notes on the finer points of their craft. Included in the group was Malcolm Butler, who was once again given every opportunity to talk shit about the man who left him in the Super Bowl LII Time Out Chair. And, as he has before, took a pass:
Butler signed with the Titans for five years and $61 million, with $30 million guaranteed. … [I]t’s easy to see why he chose the Titans from a schematic standpoint. Forty-two-year-old first-year coach Mike Vrabel played linebacker for eight seasons in New England with Bill Belichick and in his first season in Tennessee will employ a 3-4 defense that will use many of the same concepts Belichick has mastered. It’s harder to understand why Butler chose to continue on the Belichick coaching tree after how bitterly things ended in New England, with the fifth-year corner benched in a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles for reasons that have yet to be fully explained.
Still, Butler has nothing but kind words for Belichick and his style, which he sees echoed in Vrabel. Much of Belichick’s outsized influence in New England stems from his egalitarian treatment of star players, which is to say, he treats them like scrubs.
“It’s the Patriots system, one of the greatest systems in the NFL,” Butler says of the Titans. “You can tell Mike played for Belichick because you can see some of the similarities. They’re about winning the way New England is about winning.
“One thing I saw early: Mike will put you on blast. He don’t care who’s around. He’s going to say what’s right. He might be a bit looser than Bill Belichick, but they’re both great guys. A man caught a ball on me—honestly I don’t know his name yet—but Mike let me hear about it. ‘Don’t get stuck on top of the routes like that! Make a play!’ Nobody cares where you come from or what you make. Everyone’s equal. And you can tell from the head coach all the way down to the interns, everybody wants to win.”
I’m not going to lie to you. In a way, reading him going sixth gear, full speed turbo on the dreaded high road actually makes transitioning to a post-Butler world that much harder. It’s a reminder of how great his story is. Going from undrafted nobody from West Alabama to Super Bowl legend to elite, $61 million corner is the kind of thing wandering minstrels used to sing songs about. And hearing him go all classy on us when he could verbally kill his old coach, oratorically burn his house and metaphorically salt his fields and the nation would applaud him for it kind of reopens that sore wound for me.
On the other hand, it does prove a point I made the day after the Super Bowl. That the “Malcolm Don’t Go” benching was what Belichick said it was. A football decision. Here’s what I wrote in February after talking to people with first hand knowledge of the events leading up to the game:
Belichick simply didn’t believe his starting corner was in the headspace to make the calls, adjustments and post-snap reads against the Eagles RPO. At least not to the extent he trusted Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi. …The coaches, players and fans of the team love Butler. … [He] wasn’t benched to prove a point. He was benched because Belichick and others believed he was not mentally prepared to play defense, period.
Agree or disagree with the decision. This is still America. Ish. But don’t assume it was because of all sorts of bad blood or animosity. Malcolm was no malcontent. If it was an attitude issue or Belichick was punishing him for something with history on the line, don’t believe for a hot second he’d be getting signed by Titans’ GM John Robinson (10 years on Belichick’s staff) to be coached by Vrabel, the latest twig off Belichick’s coaching tree. And if there was some kind of personality clash, you’d think at some point, the luxury of $30 million of guaranteed cash would give Butler the freedom to drop the politeness and dox the shit out of the boss who did him dirty like that. Even a guy as nice as he is. So while this doesn’t take all the sting out of seeing the author of the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history playing elsewhere. But at least we know it was always just business. Not personal.