Malcolm Butler not surprised with demotion, Devin McCourty tells fans to "just chill" with trade talk

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While the Patriots steamrolled the Saints on Sunday 36-20, not everything was perfect on the defensive side of the ball. Nickel man Eric Rowe started over star corner Malcolm Butler, marking Butler's first missed start since his rookie year back in 2014. After the Pats signed Stephon Gilmore to a $65 million dollar megadeal in the offseason and rumors swirled around Butler being traded to the Saints (the very team New England beat), this can't bode well for Butler's future with the team.

However, the corner himself wasn't surprised about his apparent demotion when pressed on the issue Thursday. The Providence Journal's Mark Daniels caught Butler's response:

Talking to the media for the first time in two weeks, Butler opened up about his demotion, contract status and trade rumors. He said he wasn’t surprised when Eric Rowe started in place of him last week.

“I haven’t been performing at the level I should be performing at,” Butler admitted. “I’ve got to do whatever I’ve got to do to help the team... Just got to keep grinding. Keep working hard...Sometimes I question myself, but I’m finding my way back. You better believe that.”

And while he affirmed that "[New England is where I play, this is where I'm happy at," the hot stove isn't likely to die down anytime soon, especially after what happened last Sunday. It's eerily similar to what happened to Jamie Collins before the star linebacker was traded midseason last year: as his play began to decline and his clamoring for a fat new contract grew louder, Collins ceded snaps to younger players like rookie Elandon Roberts, culminating in his Week 8 exile to football hell Cleveland. It's still very early, but with Butler in a contract year and plenty of depth at the cornerback spot, he could be in line to suffer a similar fate.

However, that doesn't mean that his teammates have lost faith in him. Safety Devin McCourty assuaged some concerns Wednesday by imploring fans to "just chill" with all the trade talk surrounding Butler. Per USA Today's PatriotsWire

“Let’s all just chill,” McCourty said. “Malcolm’s a great player. Very trusted from where it matters — his teammates. We all trust Malcolm when we’re out there. There’s never been any doubt from any of the guys in the locker room of his performance and what he does on the field and the type of player he’s been since he’s gotten here.”

Butler has had a rough few weeks, as he struggled in preseason and hasn’t been outstanding during his regular season action. He allowed a touchdown in Week 2 against the Saints while in coverage on receiver Brandon Coleman.

“Still have great confidence (in Butler) as a player,” McCourty said. “I always tell him, ‘Control what you can control,’ and I think he did a good job in a different role Sunday and still playing well.”

McCourty's public show of support for his teammate is a good sign for the secondary, but it might not matter much if Butler continues to play the way he has. In a contract year, it's time for the corner to prove to coach Belichick that he's worth extending at a premium price.

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