The New England Patriots had to move below the NFL’s 85-man roster limit by Tuesday afternoon, and they accomplished that goal by making three moves. Punter Jake Julien was released, while a pair of veteran cornerbacks was sent to injured reserve: Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams.
The Butler and Williams transactions in particular are noteworthy. While neither was guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster after playing mostly depth roles in training camp thus far, their status as two of the most prominent players in the cornerback room warrants special attention.
So, let’s take a look at what moving them to IR means for the Patriots.
Both Butler and Williams are out for the year. The NFL does allow players to return off injured reserve, but in order to become eligible for such a move Butler and Williams would have had to remain on the Patriots’ roster beyond the final cutdown deadline on Aug. 30 and until 4:01 p.m. ET on Aug. 31. With them being sent to IR at this point in time, neither is therefore eligible to be reactivated at a later point.
There is a theoretical way for them to return to the field at a later point, though. They would have to be released off injured reserve with a settlement and remain off New England’s roster for a pre-determined period of time before a potential return. Of course, it seems rather unlikely that any of that will happen.
The cornerback depth takes a hit. The Patriots entered the day with 11 players on their cornerback depth chart. With Butler and Williams no longer part of it, only nine players are left standing. Based on their recent usage in training camp and/or preseason, they can be split into the following two groups:
- Outside cornerbacks: Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade, Justin Bethel, Devin Hafford
- Slot cornerbacks: Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant
At this point in time, Jalen Mills and all three Joneses are locks to make the roster. Terrance Mitchell appears to be in a promising position as well, despite seemingly having lost his starting spot on the outside to Jonathan Jones over the last week-plus.
With Justin Bethel certain to be on the team due to his special teams contributions, it appears Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade and Devin Hafford might be fighting for one spot on the roster. Bryant’s usage as a punt returner might give him an edge, but Wade did look good recently as well.
New England loses plenty of experience. While Butler and Williams were no locks to make the team given the depth the Patriots currently have at the cornerback position, their losses will still be felt. Not only does the team’s depth suffer, as noted above, the group also loses considerable experience.
Butler originally entered the league in 2014 and even after sitting out the 2021 season has appeared in a combined 112 regular season and playoff games. A two-time Super Bowl winner, his presence as a veteran leader might have helped groom the young cornerbacks on the roster such as rookies Marcus and Jack Jones.
Williams has had a mostly disappointing three-year career thus far, but he too has some experience under his belt. In total, the former second-round draft choice has appeared in 38 games for the organization.
Of the cornerbacks currently on New England’s roster, only Jonathan Jones has had more in-game appearances for the franchise thus far.
No cap space is gained through either move, at least in 2022. Moving Butler and Williams to IR will not change their respective salary cap numbers for this season. Butler will still count $2.2 against the cap, with Williams on the Patriots’ books with $2.1 million.
As far as the 2023 season is concerned, however, New England will get some cap relief, as pointed out by Miguel Benzan. Butler, after all, will not be able to earn any of his per-game roster bonuses this season. As a result, the Patriots will receive a $480,000 credit on their cap next season.