The back-to-school vibe is definitely being felt in Foxborough today, as Patriots players return for Day 1 of Phase 1 of the team's offseason workout program. For some, like cornerback Malcolm Butler, the emotions run even deeper.
"It felt like I was here yesterday," the 32-year-old told reporters during a video conference Monday afternoon. "One thing I know, the hard work is still here. I'm sure I'll sleep well tonight."
After making the Patriots initially in 2014 as an undrafted rookie, Butler later made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history later that same season, when he intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line to help secure New England's fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Yet, Butler hasn't suited up for the Patriots since Super Bowl LII in February 2018. After that game, in which he played virtually no role on the field, Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent. In 2021, he moved on to the Arizona Cardinals, but at the end of training camp decided to retire – at least temporarily. Butler sat out the entirety of that season.
"It was tough, at home on Sundays watching the games and sitting on the couch. It was tough situation," he confessed, before explaining, "Self-awareness is the best awareness … Bill Belichick always says, 'Do what's best for the team.' At that time, I think I did what's best for me and my family. If you're not prepared mentally, you can't do anything physically, so, I think I made the right decision by doing that.
"And I came out of retirement," he added, "because I love the game of football and I'm blessed to have another opportunity to play, thanks to the Patriots."
Just a few weeks ago, New England inked Butler to a reported two-year deal – a move back to Foxborough that Butler never envisioned he'd make. Asked about why he didn't play defensively in Super Bowl LII, Butler revealed little about that situation, divulging only that he and Belichick had a frank discussion afterward.
"You never burn your bridges down," Butler continued. "I didn't expect to come back to New England, but always had respect for the Patriots. I'm not perfect, but I was brought up with respect. You can't dwell on things in the past. You've got to look forward. It came as a surprise when my agent told me Bill wanted to talk to me. I started working out immediately."
And now, he's back with the club that gave him his first chance in pro football. As for what his role might be this season, Butler wouldn't commit, only to profess that he's committed to doing whatever he can for the Patriots.
"I'm not heavy on predictions. So, I'm just going to let everything play itself out. I'm just going to work hard, lead … Whatever opportunity I get, I'm going to take advantage of it. [Belichick] asked me if I was locked in, I said yeah. He knows I'm up for the challenge ... I'm glad to be back here, glad it worked out for me."