Now that Malcolm Butler is officially back in New England to replace JC Jackson the way JC Jackson replaced Malcolm Butler in 2018, there are 9 million reasons to pull out the receipts from the last four years and confirm who was right and who was wrong all along when it came to Bill Belichick's controversial - alright, let's call it positively shocking - decision to bench Butler in Super Bowl LII.
The reason being that the rumors and innuendos about it have been passed around New England like chlamydia since February of 2018 to the point it's a major health crisis. One there's no protection from, other than the truth. The cases of this particular STD (Sportstalk Transmitted Disease) range from as mild as reports Butler was smoking weed, staying out late, missing the team bus to the stadium, and sitting out under his agent's instructions, to so salacious they can't be discussed in public without running afoul of libel laws. Butler himself addressed some of the ones in between right after that loss to Philly:
But even before he tried to kill this rumors in the nest, I reported this, which I got directly from Someone Who Was There who spoke to me directly the morning after the game:
Butler was sick. He did fly out to join the team on Tuesday. He did struggle in practice all week. Maybe because of illness but also, to use [Ian] Rappoport’s words “… other things.” In addition to the “disciplinary issues,” “attitudes and frustrations.”
The key here obviously is the “other things.” What could Butler have done that is so egregious that the most bloodthirsty, hyper-competitive leader in the history of organized sport would put him in the Time Out chair in the Super Bowl? The answer is nothing. There is no behavior issue so bad he’d bench a starter to prove some point. Especially with a guy who’ll be shadowing wideouts somewhere else in a few months.
Butler was at the team postgame party. He talked to a lot of people, including people I’ve heard from. He was actually not in a bad mood, which is kind of stunning given the fact he had an emotional meltdown on National TV just a few hours before.
And Butler was telling people at the party, “The coach and I just aren’t seeing eye to eye.” Which more or less sheds light on the aforementioned “attitudes and frustrations.”
So what are RapSheet’s ominously cryptic “other things”? That’s where this gets tricky and words have to be chosen carefully. Butler wasn’t listed on the injury report and put on the punt coverage unit because he was over the illness. Physically, he was ready to go. Physically. It’s the other part of his game – the part between his earholes – that coaches had issues with.
I’m told that Butler “was not in the right frame of mind.” That during practices in Minneapolis he was being belligerent, “snapping” at his coaches. And after a bad week of prep, when game day came around 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.
To be clear, this is not coming from the coaching staff. It’s not spin to discredit Malcolm Go and justify some crazy, indefensible “hunch” by the head coach. The coaches, players and fans of the team love Butler. But this is coming from people with first hand knowledge. It is the rationale behind benching Butler on defense while putting him on special teams. And the only explanation that makes sense. What else could it be?
It’s lunacy to believe Belichick would have 60 minutes standing between him and naming his boat VIII Rings and think that’s the perfect time for some teachable moment. Or to prove some point about how he’s still swinging the biggest dick around Foxboro. But it’s perfectly plausible that he’d find himself with a starter who, for whatever reason, didn’t have his head on straight to play in the Super Bowl and sub in someone he felt he could trust more. Consequences, public opinion and how it played in the locker room be damned.
I’m also not arguing it worked. The results speak for themselves as the Patriots showed all the defense of a baby seal. I’m just reporting what I’ve been told by sources I trust. That Malcolm Butler wasn’t benched to prove a point. He was benched because Belichick and others believed he was not mentally prepared to play defense, period.
Normally I'd apologize for not shortening up and excerpt that long. But it's so rare you come across prose so brilliantly written. Especially in the aftermath of a devastating loss like that. To remove even one sentence would be diminishment I can't live with.
I'll also add, just to shed more light on the admittedly wrong decision to bench Butler, he did give up 22.0 yards per reception in the AFC championship game to coverage on Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee. Make of that what you will.
That said, now that he's back for two years, it's important to dispel all the horseshit, Page Six-level gossip and egregious speculation. Because if the ones I mentioned about cannabis, tardiness and holdouts - or the more egregious ones I won't repeat - were even partially true, there's not a chance on God's green Earth he'd be back in a Patriots uniform. It's entirely possible Butler got into it with his coaches. But those bygones have long since gone by. We've seen that before with this team and will see it again. Because a group of grown ups working their asses off for a common goal can handle some jawing and bad blood. But whatever led to the benching was, as Belichick said at the time and I reported the next day, strictly a football decision. There is no other logical explanation, now that he's been welcomed back with two years and $9 million.
Now another football decision has been made to bring back the cornerback who had the second best season of his career in 2020 before sitting out last year for personal reasons. I'm not asking anyone to admit that I was right and everyone else has been wrong for four years. Just realizing it will be good enough for me. I'm fully capable of patting myself on the back, thanks.