It’s been over four years since cornerback Malcolm Butler played for the New England Patriots. His last game in a Patriots uniform was Super Bowl LII, where he mysteriously played zero defensive snaps and one special teams snap.
He’s now back with New England after playing for the Tennessee Titans from 2018-2021, then retiring for personal reasons last season. Butler signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Patriots this offseason. Speaking to reporters in person for the first time in 2022, the former second team All-Pro was the first to admit that the year away from the gridiron made an impact.
“I see what a year takes off, it gets you,” Butler said. “You got to put a lot of hard work back in to get back to where you were.”
When head coach Bill Belichick was asked about Butler’s return, he saw no difference in the way Butler approaches practices.
“Malcolm works hard, like he always has, very competitive, out there scrapping for balls,” Belichick said. “His aggressiveness, play style — we’re not in pads, but yeah, looks like it’s about the same.”
In his final season with the Titans, Butler tied for his career-high in interceptions with four. He was released in the 2021 off-season, due to Tennessee’s lack of salary cap space. Butler would’ve made $14.2 million in the 2021 season.
The cornerback room changed since Butler was last with New England in 2017, where he was playing alongside All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, with Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe behind them. Jonathan Jones remains, but Gilmore is long gone and another Patriots All-Pro corner in J.C Jackson signed a five-year, $82 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason.
For the first time since 2016, New England is without both Gilmore and Jackson. The Patriots’ top corner that year? Butler. He snatched four interceptions that season, and also logged a career-high 17 pass breakups.
But that was over six years ago. Butler was 25 that season and heads into this one at 32 years old. Along with Jones, Butler has Jalen Mills and several young, unproven players to try and help him contain opposing passing games this season.
“I’m back in football shape, but I got more work to do,” Butler said.
As 32-year-old coming off a year of retirement, the question of how much work he can do is relevant. In the past two years, there’s seven cornerbacks aged 32 or older that played any amount of football. That number shrinks to five for 32-year-olds that played more than 10 games.
Training camp doesn’t start until late July, which gives Belichick and his staff plenty of time to figure out what they’ll do with an aging Butler and the rest of the cornerback group.