Butler looks back on journey since Super Bowl XLIX: ‘Went by pretty fast'


FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler knows how quickly things can change in the NFL. He's lived through those changes. 

He went from being an undrafted, too-slow-for-the-league, Division 2 reject to picking off Tom Brady in Patriots practices. Then he went from being a seldom-used corner to authoring perhaps the most iconic play in the history of the sport. Just last offseason, he went from being the unquestioned No. 1 cover man on the Patriots to watching the team pay Stephon Gilmore at the top of the market. In Week 2, he was benched. 

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Since that September win over the Saints, Butler has played in all but seven defensive snaps for the Patriots. It hasn't been his most consistent season in terms of performance, but he's about to have a chance to play a key role in the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four years.

"Went by pretty fast, man," he said, recalling all that's gone down since his signature moment against the Seahawks. "Went by real fast. Felt like yesterday, but life goes that fast."

Don't blink because another change could be coming soon. The burning meteor that rocketed toward Phoenix on Feb. 1, 2015 -- the one that burned quickly and as brightly as any other -- could be on the move. 

Once the Super Bowl comes and goes, win or lose, Butler's name may be near the top of whatever list of alterations are coming to the Patriots in the offseason. Butler is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and with Gilmore earning what he does, it seems highly unlikely he would get a similar deal in New England. 

It's already assumed that both Patriots coordinators will be elsewhere for the start of the 2018 season, and there could be other assistants who head out the door with them. Players will be gone as well. Some of the moves may be relatively surprising. Others less so. 

The End of the Butler Era in New England would qualify as the latter. 

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Below is a quick list of Patriots working on the final years of their contracts, according to Spotrac, and potentially could be looking at their last few days with the Patriots . . . 

Malcolm Butler, CB, 27: It will be interesting to see how Butler's offseason plays out. Will there be a team out there willing to pay him what Gilmore got ($31 million guaranteed at signing and $40 million guaranteed total), or in that range? He'll be 28 on Mar. 2.   

Nate Solder, LT, 29: Asked recently if he had made any decisions about future plans, Solder said no. Would he be willing to go elsewhere to play? Would he opt to stop outright? We'll find out eventually. 

Matthew Slater, ST, 32: The special teams ace just made his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl, and after having battled hamstring issues for much of the season, he looks as effective as ever. He's tied with Steve Tasker for most Pro Bowl selections for a special teamer. Whether he ever makes another Pro Bowl or not, and he very well could, Slater's already made a name for himself as one top special teams players in the history of the game. 

Danny Amendola, WR, 32: Nicknamed "Playoff Amendola" and "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammates, Amendola is in the middle of another incredible playoff run. He has avoided the injuries that often plagued him in his career, and he's showing why he still has tremendous value to a team at this stage in his career. The question is, might a team be out there that is watching his performances and willing to pay him this offseason more than what the Patriots might? 

Dion Lewis, RB, 27: Coming off of the best (and healthiest) season of his career, Lewis has an opportunity to cash in as a free agent. He's proven that despite coming back from a torn ACL in 2015 and a fractured patella at the start of last season, he's still lightning quick and one of the most versatile backs in football. 

Rex Burkhead, RB, 27: The former Bengals back and special-teamer took a chance on himself with a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. If healthy, he's proven he provides the Patriots with a talented pass-catching presence, a reliable goal-line back, and a savvy special-teamer. That's been a big "if" this season, though. He missed six regular-season games and one playoff game this year due to injury. 

LaAdrian Waddle, OT, 26: One of the team's backup tackles, Waddle was injured in the Divisional Round against the Titans and was inactive last weekend. He's played primarily right tackle with the Patriots and performed well during a difficult stretch this season that had him lined up across from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, then Von Miller, then Khalil Mack and Cam Wake. 

Cameron Fleming, OT, 25: A fourth-round pick out of Stanford in 2014, Fleming appeared to be on the bubble at training camp last summer. The Patriots kept him, and they're glad they did. As the team's third right tackle, he has more than held his own late in the season. He played all 64 snaps against the Jags and allowed one sack.

Nate Ebner, ST, 28: Ebner tore his ACL earlier this season, but there is optimism he'll be healthy enough to start the 2018 season. Will that be in New England? A highly-respected special-teamer in the Patriots locker room, Ebner handles some crucial jobs for the Patriots in the kicking game, including the personal protecter role.

Johnson Bademosi, CB, 27: A valuable presence at corner while Gilmore dealt with a concussion, the veteran special-teamer has stepped in to help the Patriots cope with the loss of Jonathan Jones to injury. 

James Harrison, LB, 39: He's already made a handful of key postseason plays, and if he has another couple left in the bag, the Patriots will gladly take them. 

Rick Jean Francois, DL, 31: More than just an owner of a couple dozen Dunkin Donuts franchises, Francois has been a force in the middle for the Patriots defense of late. Both against the run and the pass, Francois has been effective. 

Geneo Grissom, DL, 25: A core special-teamer, Grissom gives those units some size and experience at that those spots. 

Marquis Flowers, LB, 25: For teams looking to land versatile pieces with the ability to cover and sack the quarterback, Flowers could be their guy. 


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