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Hannable: Malcolm Butler appears to have received message loud and clear, so why look to trade him?

Ryan Hannable
September 21, 2017 - 10:27 pm

FOXBORO — Message received.

That was the big takeaway from Malcolm Butler’s nearly five-minute session with the media at his locker following Patriots practice Thursday in arguably his best interview in well over a year.

The 27-year-old corner was demoted to nickel cornerback at the start of the game last Sunday against the Saints, the first time he didn’t start a game in over two years. Eric Rowe got the start at No. 2 corner, but after he suffered a groin injury in the first half, Butler was elevated back to the No. 2 cornerback role.

Speaking Thursday, Butler took full responsibility for his reduced role, acknowledging he hasn’t been playing the way he’s capable of.

“I haven’t been performing at the level I should be performing at,” Butler said. “I have to do whatever I have to do to help the team. Whatever role I get, I have a job to do. I just have to keep grinding and keep working hard. Do whatever I can do to help the team.”

After a difficult offseason when the team signed Stephon Gilmore to a megadeal and he visited the Saints as a restricted free agent, Butler was at the Patriots’ voluntary workouts, OTAs and minicamp. He appeared to put what happened in the offseason behind him and was off to a great start during training camp.

Then around the week of the second preseason game and joint practices against the Texans in West Virginia, Butler’s play started to slip and it carried into the preseason games and into the first two weeks of the season. Not only that, but Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia seemed to indirectly call the 27-year-old out with their comments this week.

"It's still early," Butler said of his season. "Two games [and] preseason games, but there's no excuses. There's no excuses. I'll be ready to roll. Lights out."

Butler was asked if he expects to be back in the starting role this week against the Texans and while he said he hasn’t been told, he did say he’s been practicing like it.

"I'm playing like it, though. I'm practicing like it," he said. "I'll be ready. It starts at practice."

Based on what Butler said Thursday, it appears the demotion got to him, and whatever was impacting his play the past month or so has been put behind him. All indications from what he said are he is all-in for the rest of 2017 and should be back to playing like his old self, which is like one of the better corners in the NFL.

This leads us into the potential trade scenario. 

Butler is in the final year of his rookie contract and when Belichick knows he likely won’t be able to re-sign a player, he’s been known to trade him ahead of time so he gets something in return besides a compensatory pick. We saw this two years ago with Chandler Jones and last year with Jamie Collins. 

The cornerback knows this is a possibility, but says he’s happy being in New England.

"I try not to," he said when asked if he thinks about the trade rumors. "This is where I play, this is where I’m happy at. So I just have to continue doing my thing."

Is it really worth trading Butler if he seems to have figured his early season issues out and won’t let them be a distraction?

Think about it: Besides Butler, at cornerback the Patriots have Gilmore, Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. Even if Rowe and Jones are capable of playing behind Gilmore, they still need Butler. The depth just isn’t there. It would be a huge and unnecessary gamble.

When Belichick trades these players just before they become free agents, it’s for draft picks in return. Do the Patriots really need say a 2018 or 2019 third-round pick more than Butler’s contributions in 2017? New England is the favorite to win the Super Bowl, so why trade away one of the better defensive players on the roster? This is a win-now team. This isn’t the Browns collecting draft picks for the future.

If Butler plays like he talked on Thursday, it really would make no sense to trade him. The way he talked indicated the past is in the past and he’s bought in to have a solid season with the Patriots and whatever happens after the year happens.

With Butler appearing to have had his wakeup call, the Patriots shouldn’t be looking to trade him after all.

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