By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- If he's being honest, Malcolm Butler never expected to return to the Patriots.
Butler, as everybody knows, was benched by Bill Belichick for the entirety of Super Bowl LII, a painful 41-33 loss to the Eagles. Butler was, naturally, rather emotional on the sideline and while exiting the stadium that night, and he left the team as a free agent a month later. Rumors and reports obviously flew around the football world, but for the most part, the situation has remained largely unresolved.
Four years later, Butler's journey now brings him back to the place where his career began as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The 32-year-old came out of a one-year retirement to re-sign with the Patriots this offseason. And while meeting with the media on Monday, he credited his ability to handle that moment with maturity as the reason he has this new opportunity.
"I didn't expect to come back to New England, but I always have respect for the New England Patriots, Mr. [Robert] Kraft, Jonathan Kraft, Bill Belichick. And one thing I learned, man, you never burn your bridges down. You handle situations as a man and as a grown-up," Butler said. "If I didn't do that, I don't think I would have had an opportunity to come back here. So I'm pretty sure I made a good decision by acting like a grown man."
Considering all of the rumors and accusations being thrown around all corners of the internet following that mysterious benching, it would only be natural for Butler to want to speak out to give his side of the story. But over the years, Butler has always avoided opening that can of worms.
"Like I said, you never want to burn your bridges down. And I was brought up with respect. I ain't perfect, but I was brought up with respect. And anything I need to say to somebody, you know, I'll address them. The platform that I have, you can't just say anything and just act all wild and stuff like that. And it was tough, but you know, you can't dwell on things in the past. I'm looking forward. You know, I play cornerback. I always think about, well, if I think about the last play I got beat on, I won't be here for a long time. So you've gotta look forward and focus on the main things that matter the most."
While Butler hasn't talked publicly about that infamous night, he revealed Monday that he did have a conversation with Belichick after the Super Bowl to discuss what happened and why.
"No, it wasn't hard," Butler said when asked if it was difficult to not speak out publicly. "Because like I say, you keep business in-house. I shared my feelings with Bill Belichick. We had a talk about it like grown men. That's what we did. And that's the past. I'm in the present now. We in the present. It's, what, 2022 now? It's a whole different -- what, four years later now. So, can't live in the past all the time."
Butler admitted that after that conversation with Belichick, he wasn't exactly envisioning a Foxboro reunion in his future.
"No, I wasn't thinking about it right then," Butler said. "Not at all. But I'm glad, me and him had a talk, and I'm glad to be back."
As for his more recent chats with the Patriots' head coach, Butler said it was all about what he can do for the team right now.
"We just talked about the contract," Butler said. "And he asked me was I locked in, was I all-in, ready to play? I told him, 'Yeah, I am.' He said, 'I know you took a year off and the transition's gonna be hard since you took a year off,' but he knows I'm up for the challenge. I could take that challenge, I could come in here and work hard and take on any role. So no, it wasn't much to talk about because I'm here to work."
While returning to live NFL action after a year away won't be easy, Butler is not short on confidence that he can do it.
"Nah, it ain't happening like that over here," Butler said when asked if there were any concerns about diminished skills. "I'm confident. I got it. I worked hard. I didn't sit on the couch all offseason. I'm confident in myself. And I think I wouldn't be here if the Patriots didn't think the same. So I'll defeat that odds. I'm telling you now."
The veteran was asked directly if he feels like he will still be the player he was in 2020 when he takes the field in 2022.
Butler's reply was just as direct: "Yes, sir."
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