Even before the legal tampering period began yesterday it was expected that the New England Patriots would lose (de facto) starting cornerback Malcolm Butler via free agency. After all, the writing had been on the wall ever since his benching in Super Bowl LII. Earlier today, the expectations where confirmed when it was reported that Butler would sign a five-year, $61 million contract with the Tennessee Titans.
Let's analyze what this means for the Patriots.
New England needs to replace 94.2% of defensive snaps
Losing Butler, as noted above, does not come as a shock ever since his final game in a Patriots uniform saw him play a mere one special teams snap. Still, New England will now have to find someone to take over his spot on the defense – one that saw Butler play more than 94% of his team's defensive snaps every year since becoming a starter in 2015. Safe to say, the team will use a different approach than the one it used against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Patriots' depth needs to step up but the team could be in the market for another cornerback
As a result of Butler leaving, New England's players behind number one option Stephon Gilmore will likely be asked to step up. As things stand right now, Eric Rowe is penciled in as the starter on the perimeter opposite Gilmore with Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones, both rehabbing from season-ending injury, as the next options down the line. It should be expected that the Patriots add another cornerback to the group either through free agency or the draft.
Butler will likely net the Patriots a third round draft pick in 2019
Given his contract – a five-year, $61 million deal that reportedly includes more than $30 million in guarantees –, Butler is expected to net New England a high compensatory draft pick in 2019. Unless the team makes a big splash signing over the next few days, this selection should come in the third round and give the Patriots a selection in the vicinity of the one they originally traded to the Cleveland Browns for defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
New England will face Butler in 2018
With Butler going to the Titans, he finds himself on the Patriots' schedule next year: The two teams will meet in Tennessee during the regular season. New England's former starting cornerback will not be the only connection between the two teams, though, as head coach Mike Vrabel, general manager Jon Robinson and fellow cornerback Logan Ryan all have spent considerable time with the Patriots in the past.