How will the team manage to replace Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback?
Pretty easily, actually.
Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have stepped into the line-up and, if it's possible to believe, the Patriots secondary has been better than last year's version. We've noted the ascension of Ryan into a star cornerback, with an exclamation point on his lockdown performance of Texans elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
It's time to give Butler some credit, too.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei published a deep dive into the story of Butler's growth, with some fantastic quotes from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. From early on, Belichick knew that Butler was going to be special, and almost went as far as telling the cornerback prior to his rookie season.
The day before final cuts, Belichick approached Strap [Malcolm Butler's nickname].
"You have a place to stay?" Belichick said.
"No sir; I don't," Strap said. "I'm in the team hotel, and I don't know if I'm going to be around."
The coach's response: "Oh, you are going to be around."
Butler was thrust into the team's #1 cornerback spot out of the gate, asked to cover Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in week 1, as well as Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr- two of the league's top four wide receivers (along with the Falcons Julio Jones and the aforementioned Hopkins).
For Belichick, it wasn't any surprise that Butler was going to take the top cornerback spot. It was all a part of the plan.
When the Patriots completed their 2014 player evaluations, Belichick came to a somewhat stunning conclusion.
"We felt Malcolm could be our best corner in 2015," Belichick said. "Was he our best corner at the moment? You could have argued that. But with another offseason, another training camp, we felt he should be our best corner. Now, did we know he was going to do this? No. There was a little bit of he should be, we think he's going to be, but we've got to see."
Yes, it seems that Belichick thought that the 2015 version of Butler could be better than the 2015 version of Revis. No, not could, should. As Butler toils away on a $510,000 contract this season, the 30-year-old Revis signed a deal with the New York Jets with $39 million in guaranteed over the next three seasons.
It was a no brainer. Why pay so much money for an aging veteran when you have confidence in a young player already on the roster? Belichick has a lot to love about Butler.
"He's competitive, very competitive," Belichick said. "He doesn't know what he doesn't know, and he has a short memory like Ty did. You could beat him on any route, it doesn't matter. He's going to come back the next time, and he's not going to be sitting there thinking, 'He beat me on this.' He's just going to compete on the next play. He's not scared. He's confident. He's going to go and play competitively and aggressively. You can't faze him."
While Butler hasn't been 2009 Revis, he has certainly played better than 2015 Revis. Teams have become gradually more comfortable picking on Revis in the Jets secondary, culminating with the Texans DeAndre Hopkins picking up 118 yards and 2 touchdowns with Revis in coverage.
Butler still has a long way to go, but at least his arrow is pointing upwards. I highly recommend reading the article.