Last month’s free agency period did not see the New England Patriots make a lot of splashy outside acquisitions. While they did eventually add a pair of former first-round draft picks — wide receiver DeVante Parker via trade, safety Jabrill Peppers through the open market — their biggest early outside addition was arguably bringing back a familiar face.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler returned after four years away. A former undrafted free agent who became a Super Bowl hero as a rookie, Butler was re-signed on a two-year contract.
The reunion was notable for multiple reasons: his departure after controversially getting benched for Super Bowl LII, and the fact that he had announced his retirement last August. Now, however, the 32-year-old is back in the fold — giving the Patriots an experienced and mostly durable player to bolster their outside cornerback depth chart.
Speaking of his durability, let’s take a look at Butler’s injury history to find out what it means from New England’s perspective.
2015 (Patriots): The first reported injury of Butler’s career happened in the Patriots’ AFC Championship loss versus the Denver Broncos. While he did not miss any snaps after apparently hurting his knee, he decided to later sit out the Pro Bowl due to the issue.
2016 (Patriots): An ankle injury limited Butler in practice ahead of a September game versus the Miami Dolphins. He was listed as questionable heading into the contest but eventually ended up playing all 64 defensive snaps.
Butler suffered a hip injury versus the Baltimore Ravens in December, having to sit out four snaps as a result. He was limited in practice the following week but despite entering the game in Denver as questionable ended up not missing any defensive snaps.
2017 (Patriots): Butler was dealing with an ankle injury in December, and was limited in practice leading into games against Miami and Pittsburgh. However, he ended up playing 100 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in both contests.
Butler was effectively benched for Super LII and played just one snap on special teams in New England’s loss versus Philadelphia. Heading into the game, he also was not at full strength: he spent time at a local hospital because of flu-like symptoms, and had to travel to Minneapolis separately from the rest of the team. Butler was limited in one practice but eventually cleared from the injury report.
2018 (Titans): Having signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2018, Butler suffered a concussion in mid-November versus the Houston Texans. He missed the remainder of the game but was cleared before the following week’s contest.
In December, a quad ailment limited him in one walkthrough. He was later removed from the injury report.
2019 (Titans): A hip injury forced the Titans to list Butler as “did not participate” in an estimated practice report in September. However, he was removed from the list altogether a few days later and ended up playing 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps versus Jacksonville.
Butler suffered the first major injury of his career in November against the Carolina Panthers. He broke his wrist on a touchdown pass in the second quarter, and later had to be sent to injured reserve. Butler ended up missing the final 10 games of Tennessee’s season.
2020 (Titans): Butler missed one practice ahead of a September game versus the Jaguars because of a quad injury. He was listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week, but ended up playing 95 percent of defensive snaps.
What it means for the Patriots
As noted above, the Patriots signed a durable player when they brought Butler back. A look at his injury history shows that he suffered only minor ailments, with one exception: the broken wrist that forced him to end his 2019 campaign on injured reserve. That injury was a freak accident more than anything else, however, and should not be seen as a reflection of Butler’s medical record.
While it remains to be seen how his body will hold up after spending an entire season away from football, Butler has proven himself a reliable player throughout his career. Having one of those on the roster no matter if a starter or backup is certainly valuable.