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Ask PFW: Still pondering Butler benching

New England is well into the offseason, but Ask PFW fans still have questions about the Super Bowl LII loss even as they try to turn the page to 2018 themselves.

Do you think there will be any long-term ramifications inside the locker room from Belichick's decision not to play Butler? McCourty, a team captain, has stated that rumors about any transgressions on the part of Butler are totally unfounded. Furthermore, he has stated that the team knew days in advance that Butler would not be starting. Brady, Hightower and others have praised Butler on social media.

We have to accept, based on McCourty's comments, that Belichick's decision was in fact a football decision. If that was the case, it was very clear by the end of the first half that his decision was a poor one. For a coach and a team that has been lauded over the years for their ability to make in-game adjustments, it's impossible for me to comprehend that Belichick felt the best half time defensive adjustment was to insert Bademosi in the lineup over Butler. The first drive of the second half which produced a missed tackle by Bademosi set the tone for the rest of the half. I can't help but feel that it was sheer stubbornness on Belichick's part not to play Butler on a single defensive snap. This certainly flies in the face of "doing what's best for the team."

If I'm Brady or other team members, I have to feel that Belichick's stubbornness cost me a Super Bowl ring. A feeling, such as that can linger and fester. As a fan, I am very concerned. Your thoughts? Thank you.

Gary Madera
East Hanover, NJ

While I prefer not to answer the "your thoughts?" questions we get tacked onto long emails, this one is a sample of what many fans expressed over the last week. Though we are now more than two weeks removed from the Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles, fans are still trying to work through both their understanding of the benching of Malcolm Butler as well as the sports-based pain of the loss. Certainly Devin McCourty's comments over the weekend saying the team knew that Butler wasn't starting reignited the discussion on some level, especially since they fly in the face of what Eric Rowe said after the game. But for the team as a whole the real question is yours – will this have long-term ramifications in the locker room moving forward? My guess is no. I think the Patriots have a lot of positive leadership – including McCourty – that will help guide Belichick and the rest through this issue. Butler will likely be out of sight and mind very soon. The calendar changes and the work toward another successful season begins. Time heals. It's both a cliché and a fact. And while we may never know how or if Belichick addresses the issue with his players, his four-plus decades of coaching experience will likely guide him through this hurdle as it has through various other issues in the past. Is there reason for concern or at least consideration that this could be an issue? Yes, that's both fair and realistic. Do I think it will derail the coming season or would-be success? No, no I don't.

Andy Hart

If Butler would have been an injury scratch, would the Patriots playing demeanor have been more upbeat?

Fred Noble

This is a question I'm not sure anyone can answer, even the guys in the losing white jerseys on Super Bowl Sunday. Did the Patriots defense struggle because of its "playing demeanor" or its poor play. I'm more likely to say the latter, though the two clearly could be connected. My guess is that if Butler were injured and missed the game the Eagles would still have found a lot of success on offense. Philly targeted guys like Rowe and Jordan Richards. They won matchups. They executed. The game came down to execution.

Andy Hart

Is everybody really so sure Malcolm Butler is gone? Is it not possible Belichick's benching was a contract move as well as a game decision? In other words considering his pre-game illness earlier in the week, the reported poor practices, his height and size matchup problems in both the running and passing games of Philly, why put Butler our there? The chances of a Super Bowl 49 miracle beyond slim, why not play contract games as well? Butler's value deteriorates through the playoffs as Gilmore came to the fore. Why not solidify that loss of value in a no-win matchup situation by benching him thereby making Butler more affordable next season? What team will break the bank on an undersized, overachieving  undrafted corner operating in the best defensive mind's scheme coming off his own admittedly worst season? The Pats may be able to get Butler for five or six million a year. Also for those who think Butler and Belichick's relationship is broken think again, Belichick is too cold and calculating to hold a personal grudge against a player who has proven himself as valuable as Butler and Butler's religious beliefs will always force him to aside pride especially if the money is better to stay put.

Andrew Spence

There is a lot to this email, but I'll try to keep my answer simple. I think Butler is gone. I was right there when he dressed after the Super Bowl and walked with his head held high out of the U.S. Bank Stadium losing locker room. I think he's wanted to be out of New England since he visited with the Saints as a restricted free agent last offseason. I also don't like the idea of playing contract-related games with players in the Super Bowl. I would prefer to play to win. In that light, it's quite hard to envision Butler not being an option after playing 100-percent of snaps in two prior postseason games and 98-percent during the regular season. He's a feisty, physical performer with a proven track record. He was not given a chance to help a defense that really could not make a single key play with a ring on the line. I've never viewed Butler as a true No. 1 cornerback. I would not have given him the $65 million contract given to Gilmore (I wouldn't have given it to Gilmore, either, but that's a different topic). But I can't imagine your painting of this picture is accurate or truly costs Butler so much money on the open market that he comes crawling back to Foxborough on short money. I think he's played his final game as a Patriot and at least in terms of defense that final game strangely came in the AFC title contest.

Andy Hart

I can think of three and possibly more talented QBs who for one reason or another are not living up to their potential in this league. Would BB ever consider trading for one if drafting QB does not produce results?

Clem Newsome

Yes. How can I say that so definitively? Because I believe that Belichick considers just about every option. I don't know which QBs you are talking about, exactly, but my guess is that while the Patriots are likely to look at the draft for a developmental quarterback they will also see what's available around the league in terms of younger veterans.

Andy Hart

BB may be a great coach and a good GM, and Patriots are lucky to have him, but he is no genius and the SB loss proves it. Some of his draft choices and trade acquisitions did not come through even after a year-plus of intense coaching, and his decision not even try Butler in the second half is less than genius. His arrogance towards all, including the fans who pay his salary, has worn out on me. No, I am not looking towards his retirement as I see no alternative at the moment, but as a fan, I am no longer buying into his statue and some of his ways. What about you?

Stan C.

I still believe that Belichick is a great head coach and very good general manager/decision maker. I never believed he was perfect because he was never perfect in terms of coaching decisions or personnel moves. But on the whole he's one of the best that's ever led a football team. Certainly, though, there are plenty of fans that have expressed these types of feelings following the Super Bowl LII loss. I'm not sure we will ever get a better explanation for what was clearly one of the most curious coaching decisions of Belichick's long, successful career. I'm not sure he owes that explanation to us. Clearly, though, at least some fans believe he does.

Andy Hart

With Brian Cushing being released, should the Patriots try to sign him, or are we better off with the ones on the team now, and selecting one at the '18 draft?

Sergio Oliveira

I don't really see how Cushing, with his history of major injuries and PED suspensions, makes a lot of sense for the Patriots. I'd prefer to see the team invest in the position in the draft. The spot will also look better with Dont'a Hightower back on the field in 2018, allowing Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and others slide into roles they are better suited for.

Andy Hart

During the entire duration of the "Pats Dynasty", why don't the Pats do a much better job with who they end up drafting, during each and every draft? They miss out on drafting much better players, each and every time! At the conclusion of every draft, Pats fans are left wondering why the Pats couldn't do better, and why they did what they did.

John Moore

Now I know fans are just flat-out angry after the Super Bowl loss and not thinking straight. The Patriots drafted a QB in the second-round who is now the highest-paid player in the NFL. They drafted a defensive end who is now one of the highest-paid defenders. Guys like Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower were very good picks. Now, that's not to say there haven't been bad picks, including with some recent high picks. Like any team, the Patriots have had great picks as well as swings-and-misses in the draft. Maybe they haven't had the best run of late, but overall the Belichick-led personnel department has a solid overall average in the draft.

Andy Hart

How is Brandin Cooks? What is his condition?

Kimberly Talbot

We rarely get health updates in the offseason, so the limited info out there about Cooks after he left Super Bowl LII with a head injury isn't all that surprising. We can see from social media that he's doing pretty well. He looked pretty good in a photo flying home from the big game on a private jet alongside James Harrison. He also tweeted out a photo in the last day or so of him traveling on vacation, one stop in Vancouver, Canada. He's taking pictures along the way. That's about the only update I can offer at this point. But I would say it's a pretty good sign.

Andy Hart

My question is what are the chances that the Patriots will get Sherman from Seattle? My other question is do you think the Pats will go after Jarvis Landry in free agency?

Javier Flores

Given the bit of smoke connecting Sherman and the Patriots to a possible trade last offseason, I wouldn't rule out the team making a run at the former All-Pro again. Now, Sherman is coming off a major injury and was never the fastest guy, so I'm not sure exactly what his value is at this point. But, as I said earlier, I think Belichick considers all options and there certainly could be a need at cornerback. Sherman is now acting as his own agent and expects to be back in Seattle. One other issue could be that if Sherman did land in New England he would join Rowe and Gilmore as bigger cornerbacks and might still eave the team without smaller, quicker slot options at the position. As for Landry, I can't see him being a legitimate option. If he doesn't get hit with Miami's franchise tag, he's going to be in line for huge money on the open market. Not only do I think he'll be way out of the Patriots price range, the team already has its own high-priced receiver to deal with moving forward in Cooks. I know a lot of Patriots fans lust for Landry, but I can't see it happening.

Andy Hart

In your discussion of CBs and who will replace the presumably soon to be departed Malcolm B, no mention is made of Cyrus Jones.  Do you see any chance of Jones blossoming. He was lights out at Alabama and I'm more than a little disappointed that he has yet to regain that form.

Bob Robertson

Not sure what discussion you are referencing, but clearly Jones has to be talked about regarding depth at cornerback moving forward. The former second-round pick is coming off a torn ACL from last preseason. That makes him a question mark for early in the year. More importantly, and to get to your second question, I have not been impressed with Jones' coverage abilities in his two seasons in New England. He was drafted with a future in the slot in mind. That would be ideal right now. But he's struggled mightily in preseason and limited game action over two years. I don't have a lot of faith that he'll be ready to be a top-three cornerback in 2018. Maybe he'll prove me wrong.

Andy Hart

Is Brandin Cooks OK? Been looking for updates, but literally the last thing I heard about him was, "taken out of the SB due to a head injury." Also, why isn't every single Patriot using the new, more pliable helmets to help prevent that?

Chris Payne

As I said in the earlier answer, based on some social media posts Cooks is looking pretty good at this early point in the offseason. But we don't get too many health updates in the offseason, especially now when players are off to their own interests, which for Cooks looks like some vacation travel. As for your helmet question, I'm not sure exactly what model you are referring to but there are no helmets yet available to prevent concussions. That's just not realistic. And from what I've seen, there has been some mixed research in regards to softer helmets/outer shells. There is no magic protective helmet right now that would be worthy of making every player wear it. If or when such protection exists, my guess is that all players will want to wear it. But it's not a reality right now.

Andy Hart

Do you think Malcom Butler will play for us next season? I don't think he was hero in 2015 vs. Seattle.

Kiril Georgiev

I do not think Butler will play for the Patriots in 2018. I think he will enter free agency looking for a fresh start somewhere else where he will get a significant raise. I don't fault him for that one bit. As for the Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seahawks, I do think Butler made a truly historic and unexpected play. He was in the right place at the right time and made a tremendous physical play to pick off Russell Wilson's pass. Not sure what more you could have looked for in regards to a "hero" in that moment, but I guess your sports hero standards are much higher than mine.

Andy Hart

Offensive line & defensive line: who are the worst weaknesses and what are your recommendations?

Dwight M. Lee

From my perspective, right now the defensive end spot remains arguably the biggest need in New England. There is a need for an impact player on the edge who can play the run and get after the passer. But, if Nate Solder chooses to retire, then I think an argument can be made that tackle immediately becomes the Patriots biggest need. There isn't really anyone on the roster to fill the left tackle spot protecting the blindside of a soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback who is the straw that stirs the NFL's most consistently productive offense. Beyond these two spots, I think both lines have the makings of complementary talents, developing young players and role players to get the job done. But the ends of the lines are a concern right now.

Andy Hart

When do you think Tom Brady will retire? On the internet and Facebook in the comments and me as a fan of the Patriots, the man needs to retire, no other quarterback has played beyond the age of 40. Do you think Rob (Gronk) is going to retire?

Jason Gross

While Brady is doing things in terms of production and success that no one else really has, there have been guys that have been able to stick around into their mid-40s. That just so happens to be what Brady has targeted – playing until he's 45 – so I am not going to doubt him. Realistically I think he probably has a couple good years left, but I'm not betting against the G.O.A.T. As for Rob Gronkowski, I do not think he's going to retire. I know he seemed to indicate after the Super Bowl that he was pondering his future and reports have indicated he might have options in WWE or the movies, but I think he will be playing football somewhere in the NFL in 2018. I certainly hope that's in New England, though I wonder if he might be looking for a new contract and if so that doesn't always play out well in Foxborough.

Andy Hart

Hello from Greece...I am a fan of New England Patriots...I would like to ask you what are the odds of drafting good players with the picks the team has and what you think should do about defense?....Thank you very much.

Giannis Siotos

I think the Patriots are due for a couple really good draft picks. I like that Belichick and Co. have a first-round pick and two seconds to work with this year. I expect that they will target the front seven on defense with at least one high pick. I don't think the unit needs a total overhaul, as some have suggested. Between free agency and the draft adding a couple impact players – including a defensive end and an athletic linebacker – to mix in with the exiting talent and players returning from injury could be enough to significantly improve a group that looked so helpless in the Super Bowl. I think there is more talent and potential to work with on defense than some are portraying in the light of the recent horrible loss.

Andy Hart

Hey guys, I have a question for you regarding Trey Flowers. Flowers was our only good pass rusher this season, and as such I believe the team should offer him a contract extension this offseason. My concern, however, is that the two sides won't be able to come to an agreement that suits both parties. With the way free agent edge defenders have been getting paid in recent years, it would not surprise me to see teams offer Flowers something in the neighborhood of 12 million a year, and I wouldn't be totally shocked to see someone offer him 14 million with the way the cap will have risen by the time he becomes a free agent in 2019. Unfortunately for us, I just can't see how the Patriots can justify retaining Flowers at those prices. While Flowers has been a capable pass rusher, particularly in the post season, and has been solid against the run, I don't think he has the requisite explosiveness to ever develop into a top tier pass rusher. Though Flowers is by all accounts a very hard worker and a consummate Patriot, I would rather see us walk away from the table than offer Flowers a top of the market contract in exchange for pretty good but not spectacular play. Do you think I am being too pessimistic regarding Flowers' potential as well as the team's chances of re-signing him?

Ben Offen

You are probably being pretty fair in regards to your scouting report on Flowers, but I think your expectations for his financial future are a bit extreme. No, the Patriots won't be paying him $12-14 million a year moving forward. But baring a crazy breakout 2018 season with 15-20 sacks, no other team will be paying him that either. He's a guy that seems to like his role in the New England program. Maybe he's looking to get paid down the road, but I also wouldn't rule out him being the kind of guy willing to sign an early extension at reasonable money. Either way, he's not getting the kind of figures you are throwing around.

Andy Hart

What can you share about Derek Rivers' upside, and do you think he will boost the pass rush next season? Also, do you feel it's imperative for the Pats to re-sign both D. Lewis and D. Amendola for another SB run?

Rob Mahler

Rivers was relatively quiet early in his first summer in New England but had showed some improvement right before going down with a torn ACL. Now, coming off that major injury, it's hard to really project what he'll be this coming season. He had to make a big jump from Youngstown State and now will have to bounce back from injury. That's a lot to overcome. Right now I wouldn't count on him for anything more than a rotational, complementary role in the pass rush and even that might be a bit optimistic. No, I don't think either Lewis or Amendola are "imperative" for another Super Bowl run. Both are very good, productive players. Amendola has been as clutch as anyone the last couple seasons. But, neither guy is irreplaceable. In the backfield James White remains a tremendous passing back and New England has always found a way to piece together the running game. At receiver, Cooks and Hogan are top targets with Julian Edelman coming back from his torn ACL, expected to return to his role as a trusted slot option. Would it be nice to have both guys back at the right price? Sure. But neither loss would be one worthy of the type of feared drop-off.

Andy Hart

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