Malcolm Butler’s future in New England was always going to be up in the air. That’s the nature of free agency. But every time the NBC cameras flashed to the Patriots cornerback on the sidelines of Super Bowl LII, the chances of him landing back in Foxborough seemed less and less likely.
The NFL free agent market officially opens on March 14. In his four seasons in New England, Butler made 177 tackles and had eight interceptions, including a rather important one with 27 seconds left in Super Bowl 49.
A panel of ESPN insiders predicted where the unrestricted free agent will end up. Spoiler: none of them picked New England.
Here’s where the experts think Butler will sign if he leaves the Patriots:
Matt Bowen: San Francisco.
Bowen believes the cornerback would be an upgrade for the Niners, a team with a need at the position and the cap space to sign him.
Mike Sando: Houston.
Sando picked Houston because the team has a hole to fill at cornerback and a scheme that Butler could fit into immediately. He also offered up Detroit as a possibility, depending on whether new Lions’ head coach Matt Patricia agreed with the decision to sit Butler in the Super Bowl.
Aaron Schatz: San Francisco.
Make that two votes for the 49ers. Schatz noted that San Francisco ranked No. 30 in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) on passes to the opponent’s top receiver in 2017 and finished dead last on passes to slot receivers.
Kevin Seifert: Seattle.
Seifert wrote that injuries and age have taken their toll on the Seahawks’ secondary, leaving a gap Butler could step into. As he says, ‘who knows better how Butler can win a game?’
Field Yates: Houston.
Two for the Texans, too. Field Yates pointed out that the system Texans’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel runs is similar to the one he used in New England, plus Houston’s Frantzy Jourdain was the scout who discovered Butler when he was at West Alabama.
Dan Graziano: Tampa Bay.
Graziano envisions the Buccaneers going all out to improve their defense this offseason. With no standout pass rusher available, Butler could be the splash they need.
Mina Kimes: Indianapolis.
Kimes writes that Butler would make sense for a team with cap space coming off a season as the worst pass defense in the league.
Mike Reiss: Not in New England.
ESPN Boston’s Reiss shut down any Patriots fans who might be holding onto hope Butler could return to Gillette Stadium. “Not after what happened in Super Bowl LII,” Reiss wrote. He sees the free agent landing in New Orleans or New York as a Jet.