Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Sunday 7: Malcolm Butler’s comments this week on Super Bowl LII benching were telling

Ryan Hannable
March 18, 2018 - 6:00 am

1. We may actually have a better idea of what happened with Malcolm Butler and Super Bowl LII. After signing with the Titans as a free agent this week, Butler addressed what happened during his introductory press conference where he said it was a coaching decision and he never questions any decision Bill Belichick makes. He also spoke of his sickness, which forced him to join the team late in Minnesota and miss Opening Night. Butler didn’t fly with the team on Monday, but did make it in time to practice Wednesday. “I wasn’t feeling too well," he said Thursday to reporters in Tennessee. "I felt like that was kind of part of it. Not to blame anybody. I accept full responsibility for myself. I am not blaming the New England Patriots or no one. It could have been just me, you know. It could have been anything, but I was not feeling too well and the New England Patriots are all about doing their job and they want everybody locked in and focused 100 percent and that probably was not the case. I am glad to be a Tennessee Titan.” This was telling. Butler basically admitted he wasn’t 100 percent locked in and focused the week of the game, which goes along with what has been said all along — it was purely a football decision. By saying this, and not once saying anything remotely negative about Belichick and the decision since the game, it implies Butler understands why he was benched and knows it was on him. Think about it, Butler was benched in one of the biggest games of his career and he’s one of the most competitive players in the league. If he truly felt like he was wrongly benched, wouldn’t he have said it, especially now that he’s signed and on another team? Based on Butler’s silence on the matter until this week and his words continuing to support what has been said since the game, we pretty much know there really wasn't anything more to the benching other than it being a strictly football decision.

2. This offseason is shaping up to go how we expected it to. The Patriots sat out the first wave of free agency and didn’t sign any players to big, long-term deals, rather waited for the dust to settle and then targeted the players who remained and weren’t going to cost tons of money. Adrian Clayborn and Jeremy Hill were perfect examples, as was the trade for Jason McCourty. Given the lack of cap space and multiple needs, they couldn’t afford to give out a ton of money to one player because it wouldn’t allow them to address other needs. Expect a couple more veteran front-seven players to be signed. Also, keep an eye on Matthew Slater, who reportedly visited the Steelers on Saturday. It could be a case of him testing the market to see his value and then return to the Patriots to give them an opportunity to match.

3. Last offseason the Patriots entered free agency with over $60 million in cap space, but this year it was just over $20 million. Why do the Patriots have so little money to give out? It goes beyond Tom Brady having a cap hit of $22 million. Besides Brady, the team has three other players with cap hits of more than $10 million — Stephon Gilmore ($12.5 million), Devin McCourty ($11.9 million) and Rob Gronkowski ($10.9 million). In addition, Dont’a Hightower and Brandin Cooks are over $8 million. Looking at these players and their cap hits, it’s worth pointing out what a team-friendly deal Julian Edelman has, as his cap hit is just $4 million.

4. As we wrote last week, typically Brady has signed an extension when he has two years left on his deal and he’s yet to do it this offseason. It’s interesting because when he’s done it the last two times, it has been in late February and early March so the Patriots have more cap space to go into free agency with. It’s a tough situation for Brady to be in because surely he wants as much money as he can to be one of the top-paid quarterbacks in the league, as well as not give into Bill Belichick and the organization again given what has taken place this season, but Brady not taking another pay cut is negatively impacting him on the field for the 2018 season with what players the Patriots can and can’t sign. Maybe if Brady did sign an extension and lower his cap hit for this season the Patriots could have made a better offer for Nate Solder.

5. It was hard to buy into the Ndamukong Suh hype. It doesn’t appear he will be coming to New England, as it isn’t on his list of teams he’s scheduled to visit. Suh reportedly wants to go to the team that will pay him the most money and that pretty much is the anti-Patriot approach. The interior defensive line is pretty much set following acquiring Danny Shelton last week and why would the Patriots want to bring in a player like Suh with all the turmoil surrounding the organization right now? It never made much sense.

6. One thought on the Patriots signing Hill is maybe Mike Gillislee’s roster spot is in danger. Gillislee doesn’t have a ton of versatility and his strength is short-yardage, but that was an area the Patriots struggled in last year, finishing 24th in the NFL in third and fourth-and-1 conversions. One of Hill’s strengths is short-yardage situations, so with a cap hit of $2.2 million and no dead money, maybe the Patriots could move on from the former Bill.

7. With all the drama surrounding the Patriots this offseason, some may be wondering when is the next time Belichick will address the media? That is March 27 at the AFC/NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners’ meetings. Of course, Belichick skipped the event last year to go on a recruiting trip. A quick look at the scheduled pro days for that day, maybe Belichick won’t have a pro day to attend and will actually speak. There aren’t may big schools that day, as Florida Atlantic, Iowa State, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas A&M top the list.

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