With less than one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a key member of New England’s defensive line.
Name: Adam Butler
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 70
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-4, 300 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Despite a productive five-year career at Vanderbilt, Butler did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. While he instead had to go the free agency route, it did not take him long to find a home: the Patriots added him to their roster shortly after the draft, and he quickly showed his developmental upside as an interior lineman during spring practices and especially training camp. As a result of his impressive performance, he made the team’s opening day roster and never looked back.
Since 2017, Butler has appeared in 55 of a possible 55 games for the Patriots — he was on the field for 48 regular season contests as well as seven playoff games, including New England’s victory in Super Bowl 53 — and registered 13.0 sacks as well as 65 other quarterback pressures. Along the way, he saw his role steadily evolve as well. After primarily serving as a sub-package pass rusher earlier in his career, he has since become more of a three-down defender capable of also holding his own in the running game.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off a season that saw his role become more specialized towards the pass rush, Butler’s usage changed again in Year Three following the free agency departure of early-down defender Malcom Brown. With the big-bodied run-stuffer gone and offseason acquisition Mike Pennel failing to earn a spot on the roster, Butler entered the season in a three-player rotation at defensive tackle alongside Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton — both of which a part of the 2018 front as well.
With the Patriots changing their base defense to incorporate more 3-4 looks, Butler was employed primarily as a 0-technique nose tackle. That said, New England’s coaching staff also opted to regularly move him all over the formation to create favorable matchups either for him or other members of their front-seven. This versatile role fit him well, as Butler produced arguably the best season of his career in 2019 while establishing himself as an integral member of the team’s defensive line.
As such, he appeared in all 16 regular season contests and the Patriots’ lone playoff game. Based on his playing time — he was on the field for a combined 492 defensive snaps out of a possible 1,070 (46%) — Butler was the third member of the rotation behind Guy’s 572 snaps and Shelton’s 540. However, he still led his position group with 18 total quarterback pressures: he registered six sacks and also added four hits as well as eight hurries. He also was able to draw five penalty flags against the offense.
Butler did see most of his action against the pass for the third year in a row, but he also did see his run-game looks increase. While only 17.5 percent of his total snaps came against the ground game in 2018, this number went up to 22 percent the following year — not a substantial increase but once reflective of his importance to the Patriots’ defensive operation and his overall development between his second and third seasons in the system. All in all, Butler had 20 tackles in the running game with three resulting in a loss of yardage.
On top of his defensive contributions, Butler also again saw regular action in the kicking game. While not as prominently featured in the game’s third phase as fellow defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, he was still on the field for 109 of a possible 474 special teams snaps (23%) while serving as a member of New England’s punt return units as well as its field goal and extra point blocking squads.
What is his projected role? With the Patriots’ defensive tackle unit experiencing only one personnel change over this year’s offseason — the team signed Beau Allen to essentially replace free agency departee Danny Shelton — Butler is once again projected to play a rotational role as a top-three member of the group. As such, he will see considerable snaps against the pass but also occasionally be used in the ground game as well. All in all, he should be expected to play between 40 and 50 percent of defensive snaps.
What is his special teams value? Butler has been a regular member of New England’s kicking game units ever since his arrival in 2017. As noted above, the team used him primarily as an interior defensive lineman and potential blocker on punt return teams as well as in the same role versus field goals and extra points. Butler’s special teams experience extends beyond the two units, though, as the Patriots also employed him place kicking teams over the second half of the 2018 season.
Does he have positional versatility? Butler is listed as a defensive tackle on the Patriots’ roster and saw a heavy chunk of his snaps from the nose alignment, but he has proven himself capable of wearing more than just one hat depending on the defensive look. He also was used over the guard in running situations last year, kicked inside in heavy fronts, and also moved further to the edge as a 5-technique defender every now and then. Needless to say that he offers plenty of positional flexibility.
What is his salary cap situation? Following the conclusion of his three-year rookie deal, Butler became a restricted free agent this March. The Patriots, however, kept him in the fold by placing the second-round tender sheet on him which he signed a short time later. Accordingly, the 27-year-old is currently on New England’s books with the tender number of $3.26 million. While the deal does not include any guarantees, the only way the Patriots will alter it if they desire to do so is through an extension.
What is his roster outlook? New England could part ways with Butler and not take on any dead money, but such a move would be highly surprising considering his development over his first three years in the NFL and the role he has carved out at the defensive tackle position. The ex-Commodore can therefore be considered a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year, and appears to be in a position to set himself up for a nice payday — whether the team extends his deal now or he enters unrestricted free agency next spring.