With cornerback being a massive need for the San Francisco 49ers, the events surrounding Malcolm Butler’s benching by Bill Belichick in Super Bowl 52 is fairly intriguing. He seems destined to leave the New England Patriots, and multiple 49ers players have pitched Butler on joining the 49ers.
But is that a risky move?
The Patriots insist Butler didn’t play as a “football decision.” Some reports suggest he missed curfew. Some suggest other things. Butler has denied all of it. The 49ers are no stranger to off-the-field issues in recent years (and weeks), and so there are red flags. Is he a “high risk, high reward” player?
As it turns out, that’s what the folks over at Pro Football Focus have labeled him. In their writeup of five “high risk, high reward” free agents, Butler is listed alongside Sam Bradford, Sheldon Richardson, Junior Galette and Allen Robinson.
At the end of the 2016 season, Butler was on top of the world. He had just won his second Super Bowl ring, was coming off a career year in which his 88.1 overall grade ranked seventh among cornerbacks, and had seen his performance improve every single year of his career. Then he went through a tumultuous offseason of trade rumors and contract negotiations. Butler came back and was far from the same player. After averaging 18 combined pass breakups and interceptions the previous two seasons, Butler notched only 12 this past year. His 103.3 passer rating allowed was also the highest of his career. The cornerback from 2015-2016 is one that’s worthy of a big money deal, but how much will teams be willing to risk that that’s the player they’re getting?
So they think Butler was worse last season, which is true. But they also don’t spend any time talking about his potential off-the-field issues. What worries me is that they consider him a “high risk” player while talking about struggles on the field. He was worse in 2017 than the two years prior. That’s just a fact.
Then again, there is the “reward” part of it. Butler was really good when he was at his best. And it’s not like he’s up there in years. But I have no idea what kind of contract he’ll command, and if the 49ers will be willing to pay it with the risks.