By Ernie Palladino
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For the moment, assume that Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler was caused by nothing more nefarious than a few bad practices and some pig-headedness on the coach’s part.
That’s a stretch, of course. The gossip surrounding that move — limiting the Patriots’ best cornerback to special teams duty while the Eagles’ Nick Foles shredded the defense for 373 yards and three touchdowns — has ranged anywhere from busted curfews to weed usage, all of which Butler denies. The only sure thing is that Belichick’s explanation that demoting Butler gave the Pats the best chance to win Super Bowl LII is a lot of hooey.
Regardless of the reasons and denials, what happened that Sunday was plenty for the pending free agent cornerback to bid his farewells to his current organization. New England could probably offer him the world, and he wouldn’t return after that humiliation.
That means he’ll hit the open market. And when he does, the Jets should step to the front of the line, cash in hand.
Butler would look wonderful in that defensive backfield. It’s an area general manager Mike Maccagnan has taken pains to rebuild, and so far the efforts have not gone unrewarded. The safety position appears in good hands with last year’s first- and second-round picks — Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye — producing solid rookie seasons.
And one cornerback spot, occupied by Mo Claiborne, should be strong provided Maccagnan uses some of his salary cap space to re-sign him.
That shouldn’t be a problem, considering Claiborne made $5 million on last year’s one-year contract. Even allowing for a significant raise, Maccagnan should have ample room with just over $73 million in cap space (perhaps upwards of $100 million should the Jets make some predictable cuts) to give Claiborne his money and offer enough to lure Butler away from other suitors, including the Giants.
This all depends on the purity of Butler’s character. The last thing the Jets need in their quest for respectability — not to mention job security for both Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles — is another problem child after dealing with Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson the past couple of years.
That’s what investigators are for, though. If they can deep-dive every possible draft choice’s life, they should certainly get to the bottom of why the events of Super Bowl Sunday unfolded as they did.
All that aside, there’s no denying Butler’s ability. After intercepting Russell Wilson’s final pass in Super Bowl XLIX to gain instant hero status, he has had an excellent career. In the three years since, he’s never missed a start outside of the Super Bowl while making 159 tackles, eight interceptions, and two sacks.
He played 97.8 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in 2017, more than any other player.
He may not be Darrelle Revis in his prime, but he beats the heck out of Buster Skrine as an option.
As in any other year, the Jets will have other considerations. Quarterback is one. But if truth be told, they’d be better off financially by re-signing Josh McCown and drafting his successor with the No. 6 pick. Considering Jimmy Garoppolo just got a record five-year, $137.5 million windfall out of the 49ers, it’s not a stretch to think that potential free agent target Kirk Cousins will draw close to $30 million a year.
Better the Browns spend the money and take the chance that Cousins isn’t the All Pro many, including new Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, make him out to be.
Maccagnan has plenty of cap room. It certainly wouldn’t hurt him to spend some on completing what could become a shutdown secondary.
Butler would do that.
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