With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 78 players officially 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 did the last three years as well — we will continue to 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 the latest addition to New England’s roster.
Name: Paul Butler
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 82
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-6, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)
What is his experience? After a four-year career at California (Pennsylvania) that can best be summed up as “serviceable but uneventful” — he caught 32 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns — Butler entered the NFL’s 2018 draft with little momentum and eventually went unselected. The rookie free agent subsequently was picked up by the then-Oakland Raiders and went on to see regular action on offense and special teams during his first preseason with the club. However, the team eventually decided to release him.
Butler did eventually remain in Oakland, though, when the team brought him back via its practice squad. He even made his way onto the active roster during his first campaign in the league, but was inactive during both weeks on the Raiders’ 53-man team. Butler remained with the Raiders through the 2019 season and was later picked up by the Detroit Lions on a reserve/futures contract. He later returned to the Raiders again, but was let go once more during roster cutdowns earlier this month.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off a rookie season in which he spent time on the Raiders’ practice squad and active roster without seeing any live action, Butler entered Year Two competing for a spot on a tight end depth chart that had lost veteran Jared Cook in free agency. He did see considerable action in preseason — Butler played 168 of a possible 304 offensive snaps (55.3%) as well as 44 of 109 in the kicking game (40.4%) — but his four-catch, 24-yard performance was not enough to earn him a roster spot.
Butler was waived with an injury designation on cutdown day, and later released. He returned to Oakland in mid-December via the team’s practice squad, and spent the final three weeks of the regular season with the Raiders. The team did not offer him a futures contract after the season had ended, though, allowing the Lions to pick him up on a one-year pact. Butler was waived once more when Detroit parted ways with him ahead of the 2020 draft, paving the way for another short tenure with his original club.
What is his projected role? Based on his first two years in the NFL — during which he appeared in a combined eight exhibition contests but no regular season games — Butler projects primarily as an in-line tight end in the Patriots’ scheme that could be used both as a receiving option and a pass and run blocker. As such, he could either compete for the backup role behind projected number one all-around tight end Devin Asiasi or as the top blocker at the position
What is his special teams value? Butler saw prominent playing time in the kicking game during his first two preseasons with the Raiders — a usage that is expected to continue in New England. Not only does he bring experience on both kickoff and punt coverage teams to the equation, he also was employed on the two return squads and as a protector on field goal and extra point kicking units. The 27-year-old needs to take advantage of his knowledge as a special teamer in order to make the Patriots’ roster or practice squad.
Does he have positional versatility? The tight end position is in its essence a versatile one, which means that Butler does have a solid foundation as a flexible player. Not only can he contribute in the passing game as both a receiver and a protector, but also as a blocker on running plays. Furthermore, he was occasionally used in different spots in the offensive formation during his preseason career so far: Butler played most of his snaps as an in-line tight end, but also was moved to the slot and split out wide every now and then.
What is his salary cap situation? While no exact details of Butler’s contract with the Patriots have been reported just yet, the expectation is that his one-year contract is for the veteran minimum a player of his experience can earn. As a third-year player, this means he will get a salary of $610,000 — a number that will not count against New England’s salary under the NFL’s top-51 rule. Butler will only officially make the payroll if he carves out a spot on the active roster or practice squad.
What is his roster outlook? The Patriots, who signed Butler after a free agency workout over the weekend, saw some considerable turnover at the tight end position this offseason. As a result, only two spots are set in stone: third-round rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene project to be the one-two punch at the position. Behind them, Butler is competing against veterans Ryan Izzo and Alex Ellis as well as undrafted rookies Jake Burt and Rashod Berry for what will likely not be more than one roster spot. Given his late arrival and track record in the NFL, the odds seem to be stacked against Butler.