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Despite Matt Patricia's 'love' for Malcolm Butler, Lions might look internally for CBs

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Williams: Butler is best defensive free agent (0:49)

DeAngelo Williams says Malcolm Butler is the best defensive free agent weapon despite the Patriots giving up on him in the Super Bowl. (0:49)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Patricia hasn’t said much about Malcolm Butler in the weeks following the cornerback's benching during the New England Patriots' Super Bowl defeat. Now as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Patricia has deflected all questions about his former team by saying that’s something the Patriots would address.

But Patricia gave a little hint about how he feels about Butler -- who had been his top cornerback last season until the Super Bowl -- when asked about their relationship.

“I would characterize my relationship with Malcolm as extremely strong,” Patricia said. “I love Malcolm a lot. He’s like, all my players, he’s like one of my sons, you know. ... I hope the best for him. That’s really all I’m going to say about Malcolm.”

Butler is a pending free agent, however, and the Lions, in theory, do have an opening at cornerback. When Butler was with New England, the 27-year-old had three straight seasons with at least 60 tackles, and has eight interceptions in his four NFL seasons.

He’s also a player very familiar with Patricia and the system he aims to implement in Detroit.

However, the Lions have more pressing needs than at cornerback, particularly in the front seven on defense and at running back and the offensive line. Plus, Butler is expected to receive a lot of attention in free agency as one of the premier corners on the market.

And then there’s this: General manager Bob Quinn, when asked about moves he might make in the secondary this offseason, hinted that a lot of what Detroit might do will be handled internally. The Lions drafted two cornerbacks last year: Teez Tabor in the second round and Jamal Agnew in the fifth. Both started to see more snaps toward the end of 2017, and with Nevin Lawson and D.J. Hayden set to be free agents and Quandre Diggs likely moving full time to safety, there are holes at corner opposite Darius Slay and in the slot.

“I think there’s a pretty good chance they are internal,” Quinn said. “We drafted those guys for a reason last year, and when we evaluated them in the postseason process, we liked what they did and their role. Jamal didn’t really get out defensively too much because we really had a lot of depth at nickel. I think Jamal can probably handle some of those roles, but he has to have a really good offseason. He has to come in and learn a new defense, so that’s a transition for him.

“And Teez had a solid rookie year. We started him off slow on purpose. Kind of get his feet wet a little bit before we threw him out there, and the more he played down the stretch, I think the better he played.”

Both Tabor and Agnew are going to have real shots to win starting jobs this fall, Tabor either outside or in the slot and Agnew in the slot. But how much competition the Lions bring in, if any, might determine whether they win those jobs.