We still don’t know why Malcolm Butler retired from the Cardinals, but here’s what we do know

Butler has had a few mysterious moments during his career.

Malcolm Butler
Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler takes the field before an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens. AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

In a surprise move last season, Malcolm Butler retired from the NFL shortly after inking a one-year fully-guaranteed deal with the Cardinals.

Butler — who signed a two-year deal on Wednesday to rejoin the Patriots — cited personal reasons for his retirement, and the Cardinals stuck to that explanation during the season. We still don’t know exactly why Butler walked away from guaranteed money, or why he opted not to suit up for a playoff team.

Still, there are a few things we do know. Here are three of them.

Butler’s retirement came as a surprise

The Cardinals were caught unaware of Butler’s decision, which came about in late August.


“I would say it was a surprise,” Cardinal head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters. “We all like Malcolm, like what he’s about and know he’s a really good player in this league. Like I said, it was a personal decision of his.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters they expected Butler — whose deal was worth up to $6 million, per ESPN — would have a big role with the team.

“He was a big part of what we were doing defensively,” Joseph said. “His experience showed every day. He was getting better and better within the package. He made some plays. Obviously, he’s a good tackler. He plays the ball very well.

“Obviously, football is a big part of his life, but his life is more important than football.”

Butler might not have had the role he wanted

According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Butler might not have been in a good place physically prior to the season.

“There were rumblings before this that Malcolm Butler couldn’t run anymore, and concern internally that his lost step would get magnified gradually, as the normal wear-and-tear of the season set in,” Breer wrote in a mailbag post in September.

Breer added that the good news was the Cardinals were prepared for a step down in production from Butler.


Butler didn’t test particularly well physically prior to being drafted, and he has never been a freak athlete by NFL standards. If he really did lose a step, one can understand why the Cardinals made him their CB3.

Butler probably could have helped the Cardinals

Still, even if he lost a step, Butler is a highly experienced cornerback, and he certainly had some gas left in the tank in 2020. Per PFF’s Doug Kyed, Butler earned a 74.5 overall grade from the website — good for 15th among 135 qualified cornerbacks. Digging a little deeper per Kyed, Butler was 15th with a 75.8 coverage grade, a 79.8 zone coverage grade (14th), and a 62.8 man coverage grade (29th).

Butler might not be able to fully replace J.C. Jackson, but if he can replicate his 2020 production, he could be a solid contributor. In a worst-case scenario, Butler’s presence will remind the Patriots all season of one of the best moments in franchise history.


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