After J.C. Jackson is allowed to leave in free agency, the Patriots conduct Monday’s audition with a familiar – and perhaps unexpected – face.
Four years after his shock win in the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl LII, Malcolm Butler returned to Foxboro on Monday to try out with the Patriots, a league source confirmed to The Globe.
Butler, 32, is trying to make a comeback after retiring from the NFL last August for personal reasons. Butler, a seven-year veteran, last played in 2020 with the Titans, and had one of the best years of his career – hitting the highest level of his career with four interceptions, starting all 16 games, and hitting the highest level of his career with 100 tackles.
Butler signed a one-year deal with Arizona last year that was fully secured. He took part in a boot camp and was expected to be a regular part of the Cardinals High School, but abruptly retired in August.
The Cardinals released Butler from the reserve/retired roster last month, and Butler has already worked with two teams managed by the former Patriots – the Raiders (coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler) and the Texans (general manager Nick Caserio). The Patriots lost Jackson to the Charger, leaving Galen Mills and Jonathan Jones as starters in the position. Also participating in Monday’s workout are running Leonard Fortnite and goalkeeper Ryan Bates, according to ESPN and other reports.
The reconnection between the Patriots and Butler is certainly surprising given the shameful and humiliating way the Patriots career ended for Butler four years ago. Butler, who played 98 percent of Patriots defensive strikes in 2017, was off the bench in the Patriots’ 41-33 Super Bowl loss to the Eagles.
Butler played only one punch on the punt and did not appear in defense, and he said he did not receive a direct answer from coach Bill Belichick as to why. Belichick has never given a reason publicly, and Butler’s seat remains one of the biggest mysteries – and perhaps one of the biggest regrets – in the Patriots’ 22-year run under Belichick.
Butler was upset when he left U.S. Bank Stadium that night, but in subsequent interviews he continued down the highway and rarely criticized Belichick or the Patriots in public.
Ultimately, a Super Bowl session didn’t cost Butler in free agency that spring. He signed a five-year, $61 million deal with the Titans in 2018, and ended up making $36.5 million over three seasons.
“These people were so kind to me when I was there,” Butler He told the Globe in 2018. “It didn’t end the right way, but I’m a Tennessee Titan, and I’ve moved on from that. I have nothing but respect for these guys.”
Butler played in Foxboro from 2014-17 and became one of the most important characters in the world of the Patriots. Butler, a non-rookie in 2014 who worked for Popeye and had to try out at a mini-camp just to make the team, immediately became a sensation at the end of that season when Intercept Russell Wilson’s pass In the end zone to seal the Patriots’ win over the Seahawks at Super Bowl XLIX. Interception is one of the most famous plays in NFL history and brought the Patriots their first championship in 10 years.
Butler became a full-time starter for the Patriots in 2015, starting 54 of 56 games (including the playoffs) over the next three seasons, making the Pro Bowl in 2015. Titans of 2018-20.
Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected].
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