NFL free agency is fast approaching, with action happening daily. The market is strong this season, and it includes a few top quarterbacks, which will be particularly intriguing on the market.
Who are the best players available? Here are the 15 best players currently poised to hit the open market when the free agency period starts.
1. Drew Brees, QB
No, Brees isn’t leaving New Orleans — his coach has already said so. Still, he’s a prospective free agent who’s going to have to land on this list. Some of the 39-year-old’s numbers dropped in 2017, most notably his 4,334 passing yards and 23 touchdowns down from where he’s been for much of the last decade. He still led the Saints back to the playoffs, completed 72 percent of his passes, and looked every bit as controlled as he always has. The Saints will be thrilled to keep him as long as he remains effective.
It has been more than two weeks since the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, and we still have not heard a reasonable explanation for Malcolm Butler not playing a single defensive snap. We may never get one, but Devin McCourty wants to put an end to some of the speculation.
In an interview with Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com, McCourty said that any reports about Butler violating team rules or partying in Minneapolis are untrue. In fact, the Patriots captain says the team knew Butler was not going to start.
“As far as I know, all of that is the furthest thing from the truth,” McCourty said. “We all knew he wasn’t starting all week. That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team. I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays. I just hate that for him character-wise going into free agency. It’s just not true. As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up.”
Immediately following the Super Bowl, some Patriots players said they had no idea Butler was going to be benched. Michael Giardi of NBC Sports Boston was told that the team’s captains were aware of Bill Belichick’s decision. It could be that McCourty and others knew Butler was not going to start but were still surprised that he did not play a single snap on defense.
“It sucked for him,” McCourty added. “He put a lot of time and effort in. However it falls, the last thing you want to do is not play a snap. To me, the worst part was to see all that (anonymous) stuff come out after.”
Bill Belichick is widely considered the greatest NFL coach of all time, so it’s impossible to believe he thought not playing Butler over seven other defensive backs was the best decision for his football team. But whatever the case, the way Tom Brady and other Pats players have publicly supported Butler says a lot. If Butler did violate some sort of rule, his teammates obviously feel it wasn’t enough to potentially cost them a win in the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick may have seen something in practice leading up to the Super Bowl that convinced him he needed to bench Malcolm Butler, but at least some of the star cornerback’s teammates felt Butler put in enough work to play.
On Wednesday, Adam Schefter reported that Belichick’s decision to bench Butler was strictly related to performance and had nothing to do with disciplinary action. Schefter’s colleague, Josina Anderson, was told by two Patriots players that they did not see Butler struggling in practice to the point where he shouldn’t be allowed to play.
Btw, I spoke to 2 #Pats players who told me they didn't see Malcolm Butler struggling in practice to the point it would warrant benching Butler on defense the whole Super Bowl, in their minds. There was nothing they could recall that stood out to either of them that bad at all.
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 7, 2018
It was almost certainly a combination of things that led to Belichick making the tough call. Butler has admitted that he did not play well in 2017, and it seemed obvious at times that he was bothered by the Patriots signing Stephon Gilmore to a $65 million contract rather than giving him an extension. There may have been some minor things in practice that frustrated Belichick and made him decide he had seen enough.
In any event, it’s clear not all of Belichick’s players agree with his decision, and it would be understandable if some of them believe it cost the team a win in the Super Bowl. The way Tom Brady and other Pats players reacted to Butler’s statement about the situation said a lot.
If Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl strictly because he felt the cornerback hadn’t been playing or practicing well enough leading up to the game, it has become very clear that many players on the team do not support the decision.
Since Butler played just one snap (on special teams) in Super Bowl LII, there have been rumors that he broke team rules while in Minneapolis. That would provide a logical explanation for why Belichick chose not to play him, but Butler said in a statement Tuesday that any reports about him violating curfew or partying in the days leading up to the game are untrue. He posted that statement on Instagram, and Tom Brady was among the first people to publicly show his support for Butler.
Update: Tom Brady has commented on Butler’s Instagram post: “Love you Malcolm! You are and incredible teammate and player and friend. Always!” pic.twitter.com/A5X2XvuMmj
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) February 6, 2018
In addition to Brady, several other current and former Patriots players liked the post.
Former and current Patriots players who have liked Malcolm Butler's post: Tom Brady, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Dorsett, Marquis Flowers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Ninkovich, and James White. https://t.co/m7PsYxGeSa
— Boston.com Patriots News (@BDCPatriots) February 6, 2018
Add Marcus Cannon, Brandin Cooks, Nate Ebner, Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower, Cody Hollister, Brandon King, Harvey Langi, Dion Lewis, Shaq Mason, Elandon Roberts, Eric Rowe, and Vincent Valentine. https://t.co/bgg3eoO7sj
— Boston.com Patriots News (@BDCPatriots) February 7, 2018
Had Butler done something that resulted in disciplinary action from the team, there’s virtually no chance Brady and several other players would stand behind him publicly. The fact that they did only confirms that the latest we heard about Butler’s benching is accurate.
While the Patriots have been able to overcome in-house issues better than any other organization in sports, you have to wonder if there will be some lingering effects from the Butler situation. There were already reports of drama inside the walls of Gillette Stadium before Belichick seemingly divided his locker room in advance of the Super Bowl, so it will be interesting to see where things stand going forward.
The controversial decision Bill Belichick made to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl had nothing to do with breaking curfew or violating any other team rule, according to a report.
In an appearance on WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan Show” Wednesday morning, Adam Schefter of ESPN revealed that he was told by sources that Butler’s benching was “strictly performance-based” and had to do with the way he has played this year and the way he practiced leading up to the game.
Adam Schefter says on @KirkAndCallahan he's been told the decision to bench Malcolm Butler was "strictly performance-based." Butler reportedly "hasn't practiced well, hasn't played well."
— Boston.com Patriots News (@BDCPatriots) February 7, 2018
Assuming that is true, you could easily make the argument that it was the biggest mistake of Bill Belichick’s Hall of Fame coaching career.
Butler had a down year in 2017, and even he admitted that leading up to the Super Bowl. It seemed obvious that New England’s decision to sign Stephon Gilmore to a $65 million contract had an effect on Butler’s focus level at the start of the season, though he seemed to play better down the stretch. Several reports have indicated that he doesn’t always practice well and has frustrated the coaching staff, but why wait until the Super Bowl to make such a massive change to your defense?
At the very least, Belichick should have swallowed his pride and put Butler into the game when it became clear Eric Rowe and the rest of New England’s secondary could not stick with the Eagles receivers. Belichick always says he makes decisions that are best for the football team, and it should have been obvious by halftime that benching Butler was not one of them. If the previous reports about Butler breaking team rules are accurate, it makes sense. But if what Butler said in his statement about the situation is true, Belichick owes Patriots fans more of an explanation for why he may have cost the team a sixth Super Bowl title.
- Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler may have turned into an odd man out with the New England Patriots, but he certainly he is wanted by other teams.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon sent a tweet on Tuesday in which he tried to recruit the impending free agent. In his tweet, Garcon touted the 49ers for having salary cap space and good players on offense. He also took a shot at Bill Belichick in his sales pitch by suggesting the coach was getting in his way.
Yo yo @Mac_BZ come to The Bay. @49ers we got CAP SPACE, a QB and the best receivers in the division are on your team. You won’t have to worry about the head coach being all up in the videos. All in the way and stuff. One goal in mind over here. #SB53 Let’s Get It #49erFaithful
— Pierre Garçon (@PierreGarcon) February 7, 2018
Butler being essentially benched for the Super Bowl sealed his fate in New England, and there is no doubt he will be moving on. San Francisco seems pretty appealing, as does another team that was recruiting him too.
Malcolm Butler issued a statement via Twitter on Tuesday to address the reports about his Super Bowl situation with the New England Patriots. In his statement, Butler apologized for his postgame interview in which he ripped the Patriots for benching him against the Eagles. He also called the report about him missing curfew “false.”
Here’s a look at his statement in full:
— Malcolm CB Butler (@Mac_BZ) February 6, 2018
Butler is under pressure to defend himself given his upcoming free agency status. He doesn’t want these reports and negative information about his character affecting the interest other teams will have in him, though you have to figure they will.
There have been no answers from the Patriots about why Butler was benched in the biggest game of the year, one in which they clearly needed him and his presence probably could have changed the outcome. Even with all the negativity surrounding him, one team is already recruiting him.