Here's What I Can Tell You About Malcolm Butler's Benching
As the Malcolm Butler Tetris blocks keep falling and we all try to position them to fit into some sort of logical pile, here’s what I can tell you.
What Ian Rappoport says here is all true. 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 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.