Like most mysteries in the NFL, things begin to get a little clearer as time goes on. One of the big questions from Super Bowl LII was why Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler was kept out of the game after playing nearly every defensive snap during the season up until that point. Butler was only on the field for a single special team snap. It wasn’t so long ago that he secured a Super Bowl championship for his team with a crucial interception of Russell Wilson on the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX.
Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have held firm in their statements that benching Butler was a football decision — and some reports continue to back that up, even as the issue is reportedly dividing the locker room.
Source: Benching Butler not a discipline issue. Belichick made the call a few hours before game. Many coaches and players were shocked. Some players and coaches “furious” with Belichick, this is a move that divided the locker room.— Kirk Minihane (@kirkmin) February 6, 2018
However, speculation has moved beyond that into the issue of discipline. This tweet from a Pro Football Focus fantasy football writer began making the rounds on Monday.
A family friend who I trust, is well connected in law enforcement and was in Minny this week with local cops told me Butler missed curfew, got caught with weed when he came back late to hotel, and subsequently had a meltdown on coaches— Joey Cartolano (@JoeyPigskins) February 5, 2018
It is certainly reasonable to question the veracity of a report from a “Joey Pigskins.” However, since this report, Ian Rapoport has mentioned the curfew issue in his own report. Rapoport said the absence was potentially due to a variety of issues that include a rough week at practice and a “minor violation” of curfew, potentially due to attendance at a Rick Ross concert. Other reports have said there might have been a minor meltdown with coaches. He was also not told that he would be benched until just before the team took the field, hence, his emotional state during the National Anthem.
Butler’s former Patriot teammate Brandon Browner went even further on his Instagram account proposing a sort of conspiracy theory of sorts over several posts.
He not the first to get caught with weed, ♂️, curfew also meant we are not allowed to have guest especially women. I’ve ate chicken(Popeyes) in the room with a player and his wife after curfew. Bill seen that look in Toms eyes last night and thought we can win without our role players. Tom played the greatest game last name in super bowl history (statistically). But when you do wrong, nothing good can come out of that. Tom did everything he could do last night. Tom Brady was the goat last night. Malcolm’s presence was missed and felt last night. #facts
Butler is in a contract year and Browner proposes that the team being able to succeed without Butler would make it easier to re-sign him for less money. He also claims that several other players who are “favorites” have been caught for similar violations and given second chances.
And so, we are left with more questions than answers. One of the biggest is why he played a single special teams snap. If it was purely disciplinary, one would think he would have been inactive for the game. Bill Belichick later said there could be a “much longer discussion” about why Butler did not play, but he would not go into further details.
The San Francisco 49ers are in need of a cornerback to play opposite of Ahkello Witherspoon and Butler is a free agent after four years with the Patriots. He had a three year rookie deal as an undrafted free agent and a one year, 3.9M contract for 2017 as a tendered restricted free agent. Indicated by the trade for Jimmy Garoppolo between the two teams, the information pipeline may just be open enough for John Lynch and staff to find out more details about Butler. This could reveal his availability and strengths or his issues making him less appealing as a potential acquisition.