When he was signed as a "warm-body-type" player a month ago, few cared that former New England Patriots cornerback Darius Butler was now a Colt. Fans didn't care. Local media didn't care. Perhaps for good reason.
Despite being the 41st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, selected 14 slots lower than his former UConn teammate, Donald Brown (27th overall), Butler was cut by the Patriots in September of last year.
Cut, as in discarded. Given up on. Chalked up as yet another draft day mistake by Bill Belichick, who has struggled in recent years to find his next Ty Law.
Looking back, it's not like the move really helped New England's secondary. This year, they're 29th in the league in pass defense, allowing opposing QBs to complete 66% of their passes for 2,568 yards and 19 TDs.
Butler was given another chance in Indianapolis by Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. Grigson spent much of the offseason completely revamping Indy's defensive backfield. Starters from the Polian Era, including 2010 3rd round pick Kevin Thomas and 2011 6th rounder Chris Rucker, didn't last through preseason. Both are currently out of football. Grigson replaced them with players like Cassius Vaughn (trade with Denver), Josh Gordy (trade with St. Louis), and free agents pickups like Butler.
The most visible and publicized move was the trade for Vontae Davis, a decision that could cost Grigson any of the "Executive of the Year" awards they seem to pass out each year. Davis has struggled to stay healthy, and when he is, he hasn't done much on the field. 19 total tackles and 1 pass defended in five games, all as a starter. Shutdown corner, indeed.
Playing in four games, with last Thursday being his first start, Butler has 11 total tackles, three passes defended, two picks (one for a TD), one forced fumble (recovered). Butler generated as many turnovers against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3) as the entire Colts defense had all season up to that point.
When you look at the production, it seems clear that Butler is going to start on Sunday when the Colts (6-3) face the Patriots (6-3) in Foxborough. In fact, interim coach Bruce Arians pretty much confirmed Butler's status as a starter in his Friday chit-chat with the media:
[Butler] gets to be a starter. That's the main thing. You get an opportunity - Wally Pipp - forget about whoever is hurt. That's the whole beauty of the mantra "Next man up." Don't give it up once you get it. Ryan [Grigson] gave him an opportunity to reclaim a career, and he's making the best of it. We love him.
Note the Wally Pipp reference. Translation: Injured players can lose their jobs.
The Patriots game will be a homecoming, of a sorts, for Butler. Oh, and if you think Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots aren't going to go after Butler, then you don't know "The Patriot Way."
In many ways, this upcoming Pats v. Colts game has Butler returning full circle. The question remains though, Who loses their job to Butler?
Assuming both Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis are healthy this week (and the expectation is they should be), logic suggests Davis is out and Butler is in. Butler has produced more in a smaller window of time. Thus, the excuse of "he just needs to get used to his new environment" doesn't hold up anymore for Davis. The former Dolphins first round pick has had nearly two-and-a-half months to prove himself. Butler was signed a month ago, and already has contributed more.
However, benching Davis for Butler will make Colts owner Jim Irsay look somewhat foolish. Irsay, using Twitter, propped up Davis back in August, touting him as some kind of savior for the Colts defense. The very reason the Miami Dolphins traded Davis was because of his lack of production. That, and he showed up to a Miami training camp practice drunk.
While we haven't seen (or heard of) any Colts practices involving Davis and alcohol, the lack of production and availability is undeniable. Still, don't underestimate the ego of a billionaire owner, and if you think Ryan Grigson works with the same freedom as Bill Polian once did, you're wrong. Irsay now holds much more influence over roster decisions. If he wants Davis to play, Davis will play.
Also, it's not like Jerraud Powers has played like the second coming of Rod Woodson. As is often the case, Powers is hurt. He's never played a full season in his entire career. It was Butler who slid into Powers' spot when the Auburn alum was deactivated for Thursday's game against the Jaguars. When Powers has played, he's been actively targeted by the opposing offense with good success.
In 8 games, all as a starter, Powers has 40 total tackles, 8 passes defended, and one pick. That 40 tackles number is all you need to know there. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson scored two TDs on Powers back in Week 4. Powers also made the consistently bad Brandon Weeden look like a Pro Bowler in Week 8. Opponents are picking on Powers, and the results are very favorable for them.
We'll have a better idea of who Butler will replace sometime on Monday or Tuesday. My guess is Butler and Davis will start (ego rules this league, folks), with Powers sliding into the slot corner spot. It will be extremely interesting to see if Indy has the confidence to line up Davis against Wes Welker. If they don't, perhaps Butler is up for the task.
In any case, it's nice to see someone else's trash become a small treasure for the Colts, especially considering how moronic it was for the Colts to discard Tim Jennings two years ago. Jennings has 8 INTs in nine games thus far this year for the Bears, and 10 in the last two years. The last Colts corner to have that kind of production was "Big Play" Ray Buchanan back in '94-'95.
If Davis wants a model for how he is supposed to be playing, he needs to take a long look at Jennings in Chicago, or look right across the locker room at Butler. That is, unless Davis' job has already been usurped by Butler.
[UPDATE]: Jerraud Powers placed on IR. Season over.