Malcolm Butler’s journey to the Tennessee Titans was a rather interesting one. He came onto the scene in Super Bowl 49, winning the Patriots their 5th world championship with a game-sealing interception at the goal line. Earning even more playing time his next year, he played with an edge, an edge that garnered respect from a good bit of his teammates. Pro Bowls, All-Pro selections, Butler was on his way to becoming a superstar for arguably sports’ greatest dynasty.
Then Super Bowl 52 happened, in which Butler’s name was dragged through the media due to his peculiar absence from the game itself. He played one total snap in that game, on special teams, and was visibly upset on the sideline during the national anthem.
We’ve never gotten a real reason why Butler was benched for that game. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick never gave a real reason for it, holding any details of the situation close to his chest. Butler said it was a coaching decision, a rather simple explanation from the man himself.
There were even reports Butler was benched for violating team rules. None of these reports were confirmed however.
The benching had many thinking it would dent Butler’s free agent value, which many thought was high heading into the 2018 offseason. But seemingly out of nowhere, the Titans presented Butler with a 5 year $61M contract that definitely surprised a lot of people around the league.
I for one was shell shocked, not by the interest itself though. We all know Jon Robinson is a Patriots guy thick and thin, it would’ve been surprising for him to NOT have interest in him. But the contract alone, was pretty eye opening.
This deal opened the door for early criticism, vowing that it was a massive overpay and that the Titans would regret it.
And for the first half of the 2019 season, that early criticism seemed pretty fair.
In what you figure as Butler’s “first half” of his season, he played the worst football of his career. Giving up 7 touchdowns(at the time a league worst), 618 yards(at that time a league worst), and 39 catches(tied for a league-worst). With the awful play, Butler was showcasing, there were even calls for Butler to be benched once again.
Butler then showed why he was worth that $60M and more. Turning back into his shutdown self starting with(coincidentally) against his ex-team the New England Patriots. Butler even said the matchup with his old team didn’t spark his personal season turnaround.
“I wanted to win, but it wasn’t personal,” said Butler. “Mr. [Robert] Kraft, Belichick, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, they showed me nothing but love. No bad blood between Belichick, none of those players, none of those coaches, Mr. Kraft, none of those guys. I’ve got nothing but respect for them.”
Down the stretch, Butler played the football that got him plenty respect from around the league. Taking a lot of pressure off of Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson. Ryan was able to stay manned to his nickel/slot corner position, where he thrives very well at. Jackson was able to stay the CB2 he’s been playing since his rookie year in 2017.
This season though, the Titans will look towards Butler for more consistent play. Not just turning it on in the second half of the season but from week 1 all the way through to the end.
Plus, the Titans need his consistent play more than people tend to realize. The Titans got by last season disguising pressure and creating multiple looks pre-snap. This league is way too modern and innovative to keep letting that type of defense get by.
Also, the Titans don’t know what they’ll mostly be getting from their front 4 pass rush this season.
Harold Landry impressed a bit last season, but he has to learn counter moves to go off of his speed rush.
Cameron Wake is the new guy in town, and yes he’s been a sack machine over his career, but he’s 37. It’d be foolish to keep expecting consistent sack production from someone that far in age. If he proves you wrong, that’s great for you, but you can’t expect mind-blowing production when he’s this deep into his career.
Sharif Finch is another young guy but didn’t get the amount of snaps to warrant him a reliable pass rusher. He’s expected to get a good uptick in playing time this season.
Jurrell Casey will continue to be Jurrell Casey. Great against the run and rushing the passer, but it should be noted he’s still without a running mate who can come close or even match his production.
As evidenced above, the Titans need a consistent Malcolm Butler from week 1 to the end of their season. If they don’t get it, especially with the way the Titans’ schedule shapes up the first 4-8 games of the year, the Titans could be looking at a regression on defense and a season lost early.