The mystery behind Bill Belichick’s controversial decision to bench Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII continues.
According to safety Devin McCourty, the Patriots were well aware Butler was going to sit out at least part of the game against the Eagles. While cornerback Eric Rowe — Butler’s replacement — told reporters he didn’t know he was going to start until right before kickoff, McCourty recently revealed the team knew the plan in advance.
“We all knew he wasn’t starting all week,” the Patriots captain told NJ.com’s Ryan Dunleavy at a fundraiser for his charity, Tackle Sickle Cell, Saturday. “That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team.”
After participating in 98 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season, Butler was kept on the sidelines — with the exception of one special teams snap — for the duration of Super Bowl LII. Following New England’s defeat, Belichick and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia maintained the decision to bench Butler was for strictly football, not disciplinary, reasons.
Rumors swirled, however, as many believed there was more to the story. The day after the Super Bowl, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported “a small or minor violation of team rules” while in Minnesota may have contributed to the coaching decision. McCourty told Dunleavy the widespread speculation contradicts his knowledge of the situation, although he understands the curiosity.
“As far as I know, all of that is the furthest thing from the truth,” he said of the reports. “I get why people are fishing, the guy played 98 percent of the plays.”
“It’s just not true,” he continued. “As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up.”
Calling Butler a great teammate and friend, McCourty said the situation undoubtedly “sucked” for the 27-year-old, but “the worst part was to see all that stuff come out after.”
“I just hate that for him character-wise going into free agency,” he told Dunleavy. “If he decides it’s hard to come back after that, anywhere he goes, the guy is a great football player and probably one of the most competitive people I’ve been around. With all my guys, we’re teammates and friends for life.”
The Patriots are reportedly expected to lose Butler when he becomes a free agent this offseason. The cornerback posted a statement two days following the Super Bowl that thanked the organization for a successful four seasons. He did not acknowledge his free agency or whether he plans to return to New England.
“It’s been great to watch him develop,” McCourty said of Butler. “To watch him, maybe, be late one day his rookie year, and say, ‘Hey Malc, you can’t do that.’ And then becoming a guy you can count on who is very dependable … It’s cool for me to see. He came in as an undrafted rookie in 2014 and didn’t know a thing about playing in the NFL or life as a NFL player. He’s grown so much.”