HOUSTON -- It may be more than a month before NFL free agency starts, but Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is already making a pitch to cornerback Malcolm Butler that Houston is the place for him.
Wusup @Mac_BZ we got a place for you in Houston
— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) February 5, 2018
Butler is likely on Hopkins’ mind because of, despite playing in 97.8 percent of the New England Patriots’ defensive snaps during the 2017 regular season, his sudden benching in Super Bowl LII. Patriots coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t give a reason for benching the corner, but Butler, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, refuted rumors of possible reasons that he didn’t play a single defense snap earlier this week.
In Butler, the Texans could get a playmaker who has big-game experience. The undrafted free agent had his best season in 2016 when he had 63 combined tackles, four interceptions and 17 passes defended. Butler’s most famous play came in Super Bowl XLIX, when he intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line to seal a Patriots win. After that, he established himself as a reliable starter for New England, forming a solid duo with now-Titans cornerback Logan Ryan.
The Texans desperately need help in the secondary. They went from allowing the second-fewest passing yards in 2016 to finishing last season ranked 24th. The biggest difference was the loss of cornerback A.J. Bouye, who signed a five-year free-agent contract with the division-rival Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bouye, who was the Texans’ top corner by the end of the 2016 season, took another step forward for the Jaguars. According to Pro Football Focus, Bouye’s passing rating allowed was the lowest by an outside cornerback since PFF started keeping the stat in 2006.
The Texans hoped to replace Bouye’s production with 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson, who missed four games with a sprained MCL and struggled to cover and tackle while healthy. Johnson finished the season ranked dead last by PFF among cornerbacks. Veterans Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are reliable, but both are past the point in their careers where they can be counted on to be a No. 1 cornerback.
Houston has several positions to upgrade, but the secondary might be the most important. The Texans enter the offseason with more than $56 million in cap space, and they should spend a significant portion on cornerback.
Butler won’t be cheap, but the Texans will have to be aggressive in free agency without a first- or second-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. Butler will be one of the top cornerbacks available and he will be an ideal target for Houston, as well as many other teams. Even if Butler doesn’t land in Houston, he’s the type of established and experienced player Brian Gaine should be looking for in his first offseason as an NFL general manager.