Butler is back and sounds like he's here to stay.
Rumor and speculation abounded the past couple of weeks when Patriots starting cornerback Malcolm Butler failed to appear at a voluntary organized team activity (OTA) practice. Many media and other observers wondered publicly if Butler's absence was related at all to his reported displeasure with his current contract (he's in the final year of a rookie deal that will pay him $600,000 in base salary this season).
However, New England's Super Bowl XLIX star and 2015 Pro Bowler was on the field Tuesday, the first of three straight days of mandatory mini-camp sessions. Afterward, he addressed reporters' questions about his no-show at the last workout.
"Big misunderstanding," he asserted. "I had some off-the-field issues. That's that. Family issues. Something like that."
Asked directly about his feelings about his contract status, the third-year pro appeared to rule out a future hold-out to force the issue with the Patriots' front office.
"It is what it is. I'm going to play hard no matter what… I can only control what I can control. I'm just out here playing football.
"All I can do is just go out there, play football, and make plays for the team. Just whatever to help the team win, that's all I'm about."
Butler claimed he wasn't sure if there have been any negotiations between his agent and the club, nor would he comment on whether he felt he was deserving of a pay raise. He emphasized, however, that he was happy to be back on the football field competing with his teammates.
"Most definitely. Feels great, getting better, doing anything to help the team win."
Gronk, others remain sidelined
Butler was one of four Patriots who were back in action after missing the May 26 OTA. While most of the missing are known to be dealing with injuries and recovering from offseason surgeries, notable absentees at mini-camp included TE Rob Gronkowski, CB Logan Ryan, and safety Duron Harmon for reasons that remain unclear.
Head coach Bill Belichick shed precious little light on their absences.
"There are a lot of players that were not on the field. They were doing other things… Whoever is here is here."
With those 77 players who were able to suit up and go today, Belichick said the goal was the same.
"Just keep making progress. Each day, just try to build on the day before. A lot of new faces, a lot of new [playbook] installation, so just grind through it day by day."
Business as usual for Garoppolo
For the second consecutive year, backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo finds himself coming under intense scrutiny because he could be New England's starting quarterback for the first four games – if Tom Brady's DeflateGate-related NFL suspension holds up.
In the meantime, Brady, Garoppolo, and rookie Jacoby Brissett continue to work as the team's three passers. It seemed as if Brady and Garoppolo were getting their normal amount of repetitions under center, with Brady getting the first crack most of the time.
"No pretty much the same. Going about my business the same way," Garoppolo acknowledged.
"Experience always helps," he said, referring to last year's similar uncertainty, "but it really doesn't change much for me. I'm going about it the same way. Enjoying the process. Trying to get through OTAs. We've been fortunate so far with the good weather. Practice has been going well."
Cardona reports for duty
It was mildly surprising to see incumbent long snapper Joe Cardona taking part in mini-camp Tuesday. He has still not received official permission from the United States Navy, his other full-time employer, to play the entire 2016 season. While a decision is expected soon, Cardona, who's entering his second season with the Patriots, is currently stationed in Bath, Maine on the U.S.S. Zumwalt.
He was given temporary leave last Friday and took the opportunity to rejoin his Patriots teammates for mini-camp.
"Just taking things one day at a time, one job at a time," he said with a smile after Tuesday's session.
Coincidentally, Cardona's return came on a day when his former coaches at the U.S. Naval Academy showed up to observe practice as invited guests of Belichick's coaching staff.
"They didn't tell me they were going to be here," said Cardona. "It was a pleasant surprise, but I don't think they even knew I was going to be here. So, it was a surprise for both of us."