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Malcolm Butler grateful to turn back the clock with Patriots: ‘It felt like I was here yesterday’

Patriots All-Decade selection Malcolm Butler signed a two-year pact in March.

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Feb. 4, 2018 marked the last time Malcolm Butler appeared in a game for the New England Patriots. It began on the sidelines at U.S. Bank Stadium. It ended with a single snap on punt coverage.

But the 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles is in the rearview for the cornerback. The same is true of his subsequent departure to the Tennessee Titans and last summer’s retirement with the Arizona Cardinals.

“It was tough, but you can’t dwell on things in the past,” Butler told reporters during his first video conference since re-signing last month. “I’m looking forward. I play cornerback. If I think about the last play I got beat on, I won’t be here for a long time. You’ve got to look forward and focus on the main thing that matters the most.”

On Monday, Butler was in a familiar place for the start of the offseason program. The place where he arrived as an undrafted tryout at rookie minicamp in 2014 and where he became a Pro Bowler, second-team All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion and member of the franchise’s All-Decade roster.

“It felt like I was here yesterday, to be honest,” Butler said. “And one thing I know about the New England Patriots — the hard work is still here. I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight. But I miss it. I enjoy it. I’m here to help the team. My role is going to be whatever I make it.”

Butler checked into 70 games and made 55 starts during his initial run with New England. Including postseason and his Super Bowl LII benching, the West Alabama product recorded 242 tackles, two sacks, four forced fumbles, nine interceptions and 55 total passes defensed.

“I didn’t expect to come back to New England, but I always had respect for the New England Patriots,” Butler said. “... And one thing I learned, never burn your bridges down. You handle situations as a man, as a grown-up. If I didn’t do that, I don’t think I’d have the opportunity to come back here, so I’m pretty sure I made a good decision acting like a grown man.”

Head coach Bill Belichick reached out in free agency. A workout followed.

“It came as a surprise. It really did,” Butler reflected. “It came as a surprise when my agent told me that Bill wanted to talk to me, so I was happy. I started working out immediately because I knew it could be a possibility that I could return.”

Now at age 32, Butler stands on a cornerback depth chart featuring Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade and Joejuan Williams on the outside, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant in the slot and Justin Bethel on special teams.

Ahead is the chance to be play a part after a season away from football due to personal reasons.

“Belichick always says, ‘Do what’s best for the team,’” Butler said of his stay on the retired list. “And at that time, I think I did what’s best for me and my family. If you’re not prepared mentally, you can’t do nothing physically, so I think I made the right decision by doing that. I came out of retirement because I love the game of football. I love the game and I’m blessed to have another opportunity to play, thanks to the Patriots.”

Butler’s two-year comeback pact carries $750,000 in guarantees to go with $250,000 in offseason workout bonuses and $510,000 in per-game active bonuses. His base salary sits at $1.24 million for 2022 and $1.74 million for 2023.

“I worked hard. I ain’t sit on the couch all offseason,” added Butler. “I’m confident in myself and I think I wouldn’t be here if the Patriots didn’t think the same. I’ll defeat the odds. I’m telling you now.”