New England Patriots

Malcolm Butler and Bill Belichick will square off on Sunday, but we’ll spare you the rhetoric about who’s right and who’s wrong. Instead, we’ll focus on the most frustrating part of any discussion concerning Belichick and a long history of controversial personnel decisions.

We call it the Bill Belichick paradox.

Let’s start here: we all generally agree that Belichick is the best coach in the NFL, the best coach of his era, arguably (and probably) the greatest coach of all-time. Patriots followers always factor this is in when the Patriots make an acquisition of any kind, from Albert Haynesworth and Adalius Thomas to Chris Hogan and Josh Gordon. Bill will get something out of him. And on this point few of us argue. If Haynesworth wasn’t to work out – and he wasn’t – that failure was on the player.

FOXBORO, MA – OCTOBER 16: Albert Haynesworth #92 of the New England Patriots chats with fans after a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In retrospect, after all, Albert Haynesworth was hopeless.

So Belichick gets all of the credit, but none of the blame. Which is fine. On players like that, he’s generally in a no-lose situation.

Here’s the frustrating part: anytime a player leaves New England, no one ever mentions the coaching. The argument gets overly simplified to count as another win for Belichick. Deion Branch and Asante Samuel were both good players in New England, and both were allowed to leave via free agency. Neither reached the heights elsewhere that they did with the Patriots. Blind Belichick loyalists somehow chalk this up as a victory for Belichick even though the coach failed to replace either one.

GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 03: Cornerback Asante Samuel #22 of the New England Patriots celebrates after breaking-up a pass thrown to wide receiver Plaxico Burress #17 of the New York Giants (not pictured) in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Think about it. After Samuel left, the Patriots had a rotating door at left corner that spun until Darrelle Revis came to town. In the intermediate aftermath of the Branch departure, they had a receiving corps so bad that Belichick ultimate went out and got both Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Those trades were essentially an admission that Belichick made a mistake in the first place, so give him credit for that. It’s his defenders that inspire you to pull your hair out.

Really, how many Patriots fans have uttered these famous words: Ya, how many does Bill let go that are good somewhere else? The right answer: it doesn’t matter. Football isn’t baseball, where players perform in a vacuum. Teammates, systems and – yes – coaching are huge variables. To suggest that someone like Branch or Samuel – or Butler – would be the same player with someone other than Belichick coaching him is terribly disingenuous and downright duplicitous. Love him or hate him, we all agree that Bill matters.

ARLINGTON, TX – NOVEMBER 05: Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against Malcolm Butler #21 of the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on November 5, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

How does this all relate to Butler? Somehow, between last February and now, some people are illogically and inexplicably justifying Butler’s abandonment on the sideline in the Super Bowl loss against Philadelphia. Butler subsequently signed with Tennessee and is having a bad year. We all know it. But to suggest that this somehow justifies Belichick leaving him on the sideline is downright stupid, for the simple fact that Butler was never this and when he played for Belichick and was never as bad as the men who replaced him on the field that night, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards among them. (The Patriots have since cut ties with each, by the way. Butler was a free agent and the right to leave on his own.)

Fact: Bill Belichick made Malcolm Butler a better player. He would have continued making him a better player. So the next time the Patriots allow someone to leave, let’s not pretend that the coaching is irrelevant.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.