The New England Patriots’ defensive front seven experienced some considerable turnover last spring, with Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins both leaving as free agents before Dont’a Hightower decided to opt out of the 2020 season. While Hightower is slated to return after his one-year absence, the group as a whole might again see some drastic personnel changes in free agency.
The team’s top-three interior defensive linemen in terms of playing time are all headed for the open market as well, and there is no telling whether or not they will return. Among them is Adam Butler, who will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Last week, the 26-year-old appeared on the Two Minute Drill podcast to talk about a variety of topics — including his upcoming trip to the open market.
“I’ve been very humbled by this experience,” Butler said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go in the NFL. This has definitely helped me understand this is a privilege more so than it is a right. Wherever my opportunity shows up, or the best opportunity for me shows up, I’m definitely going to take it.”
Butler went unselected in the 2017 NFL draft, but signed a rookie deal with the Patriots during the subsequent free agency period. Despite his status, he was able to make the 53-man roster and develop into a key member of the team’s defensive tackle rotation. Over the four seasons that followed, Butler went on to appear in a combined 70 regular season and playoff games for the team — including two Super Bowls.
Last offseason, New England tendered the restricted free agent at the second-round level to keep him in the fold for another year. Now, Butler is once more looking towards an uncertain future. He is also possibly looking at the first big payday of his career.
The question is whether or not the Patriots will be the team investing in him.
“If it’s New England, that’s great,” said Butler. “I love New England. I love playing there. I’ve developed a lot of relationships with Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, and a lot of other people there. I love New England, but at the end of the day I think everybody just has to do what’s best for them. And that’s what I plan on doing.”
The Patriots are currently projected by Miguel Benzan to have $63.6 million in salary cap space available, which is plenty to keep Butler and fellow defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. in the fold. Of course, however, it is not that easy: supply and demand will dictate price tags in free agency, and New England is notoriously disciplined when it comes to sticking to its evaluations even if it means parting ways with cornerstone players such as the aforementioned Van Noy and Collins.
Butler falling in the same category next month is no certainty, but he appears willing to explore all options — something that the team also will do.