Malcolm Butler was asked bluntly: Will the New England Patriots get the same player in 2022 as they did in 2020 – before he was a year into retirement?
“Yes sir,” Butler said, speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Patriots last month.
After a year out, the 32-year-old cornerback said he’s confident of returning to his former form. While Butler has seen other players struggle to regain momentum after retiring from the field, he says it won’t be a problem.
“It doesn’t happen over here,” Butler said. “I’m confident I have it. I haven’t sat on the couch all off season. I’m confident and I don’t think I would be here if the Patriots didn’t feel the same way.”
The journey that led to Butler’s return to Foxborough was a long one. After three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Butler originally signed to play with the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. However, Butler unexpectedly announced his retirement just before the start of the season.
Butler attributed his resignation to “personal reasons.” Though he didn’t go into detail, he claims the decision was the best for him and his family at the time.
“(Bill) Belichick always says do what’s best for the team, and at the time I thought I was doing what’s best for me and my family,” Butler said. “If you’re not mentally prepared, you can’t do anything physically. I think I made the right decision with that. I came out of retirement because I love the game of football and I’m blessed to have another opportunity to play.”
Butler spent the 2021 season on the Cardinals’ Reserve/Retired roster. He was released from the Cardinals roster after returning to the NFL this offseason. After hitting the free-agent market, Butler said he received a call from Belichick to discuss a potential return.
That call spurred Butler to immediately get in shape and prepare for the 2021 season. Butler says he’s looking forward to playing the game he loves again – and that being off the field wasn’t easy last season.
“It was tough being at home on Sunday, watching the game on Monday, Thursday and Sunday, sitting on the couch and missing the game,” Butler said. “It was difficult. It was a difficult situation, but I think I made the right decision. Confidence is the best awareness. But you have to push through things and make sure you’re mentally in a good place, and that I did and I’m glad to be back and I’m glad it worked out for me.”
Butler will join a Patriots secondary that was depleted after Stephon Gilmore’s trade and JC Jackson’s departure last season. Butler joins a group currently consisting of Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade and Myles Bryant.