By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) Patriots coach Bill Belichick placed his two palms on a podium and stared for miles into a microphone pointed away from his mouth.
It didn’t matter that the mic wasn’t picking up his dejected tone, because those on hand in the aftermath of the Patriots’ 41-33 loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl on Sunday weren’t getting answers to why cornerback Malcolm Butler was benched on the biggest stage. The questions kept coming, and the responses were nothing more than a mumble — even when audible.
Two days later, the impending free agent Butler wrote a farewell statement in which he offered thanks to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, his coaches, teammates and the organization as a whole.
“I have always respected everyone at the New England Patriots organization from Custodians, staff and Coach Belichick,” Butler wrote in his statement.
The mysterious undertones to Butler’s benching in the Super Bowl take him to the open market, where teams like the Bears are left wondering what happened in Minneapolis. The 27-year-old Butler denied any wrongdoing amid rumors of attending a concert and missing curfew, among other Internet fascinations.
What happened could well be a Belichick strong-arming and the benching of the Super Bowl XLIX hero Butler, whose goal-line interception of Russell Wilson secured the Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seahawks three years ago. But should a young executive like Bears general manager Ryan Pace doubt an all-time great like Belichick? Regardless, one of the top cornerbacks set to hit the open market just had his value apparently diminished.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama in 2014, Butler is best known for that interception in the Super Bowl three years ago. From there, he became a full-time starter and a mostly steady player at cornerback. He played in all 48 regular-season games in the last three years, recording eight interceptions during that span.
With incumbent starters Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara set to become free agents, the Bears are among the teams ready to search for cornerbacks in free agency. Butler and the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson are among the top cornerbacks available on the open market.
Last March, the Bears missed badly in the cornerback market, coming close with Stephon Gilmore before he landed alongside Butler in New England. A.J. Bouye, the top cornerback on the market, signed with Jacksonville. The Bears settled for Amukamara on a one-year deal and Marcus Cooper on a three-year deal. Cooper may be released after an unfulfilling 2017 season.
Both Fuller and Amukamara have expressed their interest in returning with the Bears. Fuller will likely draw a larger market than Amukamara after a breakout season. Both should be coveted by the Bears, but to what degree is the question. Johnson should get the biggest check of any cornerback, especially after Butler’s benching.
A case for Butler can be made by simply dismissing Belichick’s handling of the situation, calling it arrogance by the future Hall of Fame head coach. Perhaps if Butler was on the field, the Patriots could’ve come up with the difference-making stop or turnover that they desperately needed in the Super Bowl.
The steady play of Butler at cornerback could be exactly what the Bears defense needs, enhancing a unit with talent in the front seven but questions in the secondary.
But first, the Bears must examine what Belichick was thinking in benching Butler when the Patriots needed him most.