Some people need a New England Patriots conspiracy theory to latch onto. Whether it’s for their own personal relief or strictly for ratings, they need it like living things need air to breath.
Not me. I’m good. I don’t walk around thinking Bill Belichick is out to get everyone. But I do believe he’s a staunch businessman who’s one of the best in a very cold-hearted business.
So while I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the Patriots chose to part ways with cornerback Malcolm Butler at some point over the next eight months, I don’t believe his reduced role in Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints is an indication that their football marriage is coming to an imminent end.
I realize I’m probably in the minority on that one. I’ve already heard the comparisons to Jamie Collins, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns last October. And I’ve already been reminded that Butler was unhappy with the $3.91 restricted free-agent tender he was given in the offseason, especially with newcomer Stephon Gilmore receiving a 5-year, $65 million contract from the Patriots.
I get it. You think Belichick is preparing to exile Butler sooner rather than later. And starting Eric Rowe over him in New Orleans on Sunday was the first sign.
But what if it wasn’t?
I’m not saying Butler is going to play past this season in New England. I’m just trying to “chill out about the Malcolm Butler craziness,” as Patriots safety Devin McCourty put it, while speaking to Tom Curran and Phil Perry on the set of Comcast SportsNet’s “Quick Slants” this week.
“I mean, we’re reading between the lines.” said McCourty. “It’s ‘Coach said this, this is what this means.’ Let’s all just chill.”
McCourty added: “Malcolm’s a great player. He’s very trusted from where it matters, his teammates. We all trust Malcolm. We’re out there — there’s never been any doubt with any of the guys in that locker room of his performance and what he does on the field and the type of player he’s been since he got here, really. So, we still have great confidence in him as a player. I always tell him to control what you can control, and I thought he did a good job of coming in in a different role Sunday and still playing well.”
McCourty acknowledged that Butler did in fact play a different role on Sunday in New Orleans, while also going out of his way to point out that, “Malcolm can cover anybody in this league.”
He might be right. And maybe Belichick feels the same way, maybe he doesn’t.
I’d just find this story to be a little more accurate if we left some room for the idea that perhaps there’s no lingering beef between the coach and the player, instead of going all-in on the idea that Butler is on his way out of town because he played 75 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 2.
That’s not to say we should be ignoring the elephant in the room: his impending free agency. But taking a slightly reduced role in Week 2 as your evidence for an abrupt divorce is nothing more than a Patriots conspiracy theory at its finest.
Belichick’s decision might have been matchup-related. Or he might have been sending a message. I honestly don’t know.
But if it was the latter, what I do know is, if Butler ends up getting that message and does his job like everyone in New England knows he’s capable of, then he’ll be the best player on the Patriots’ defense.
And if that’s the case, Belichick won’t be trading him anywhere.
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