Shedding salaries left and right has on-field consequences for the Buffalo Bills. Depth could be a concern on defense. The NFL Draft will help — Rex Ryan probably hopes to land at least two Day 1 starters from the college ranks — but Buffalo certainly could use someone on the current roster stepping up in 2016.
Could Mario Butler be such a player?
The Bills return all three of their primary cornerbacks — Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey. But with Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks off to the Philadelphia Eagles, there's an opening at the dime position. Not to mention, Gilmore and Darby missed five combined games in 2015. Right now, Butler would be the first man in. The guy let go by both the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys is suddenly a NFL veteran, six years in, with a chance to stick once and for all.
Butler proved reliable in his 86 snaps the final two games of the season, saving a Bills' 22-17 win over New York by breaking up Ryan Fitzpatrick's bomb up the right sideline with 17 seconds left.
Last August, Butler shared his chilling story and the power of forgiveness. His father was murdered, chopped to pieces and stuffed into his own refrigerator when Mario was just a child. The family never found out who killed Dad, yet grew to forgive that killer.
Now, in Buffalo, the 6-foot-1, 187-pound corner hopes he has found a permanent NFL home.
“For me, it’s all about getting better every day," Butler said. "I never know what’s going to happen in this league, so I always try to continue to work hard and continue doing what I’ve been doing so I can be someone they really rely on. That’s the most important part with Leodis leaving and Ron leaving. I don’t know if it affects me but my mind-set is the way its always been going into this sixth year. Just continue to control what I can. Go out and make plays. If I do that, I’ll be in a good place.”
Butler brings ideal length to the position and says the key is to be "flexible," to be a versatile pro the team can plug in anywhere at any time.
Said Butler, “I’m confident in my abilities. I know what I can do. I know what I can bring to the table. That’s a big trait you have to have playing cornerback — having confidence in your abilities."
So Butler is similar to Gilmore in this regard. He's soft spoken himself, but not timid. He hasn't seen a player prepare quite like Gilmore, who we featured in The News on Sunday. Nothing shocks Gilmore, he said. And if you know exactly what's going to happen, you'll be in a position to make a play. Gilmore, he added, is right "nine out of 10 times" on what route a receiver is going to run before the snap.
The starters are entrenched and the Bills re-signed the nickel corner, Robey, before last season.
As it stands, Butler is on deck. Maybe those two wins over Dallas and the New York Jets didn't mean anything in the standings but the experience certainly helped Butler. He proved he can hang after a long, long wait. Against Dallas, he wrapped up running back Darren McFadden one on one for a five-yard gain that could've ruptured into a touchdown and had a textbook break-up on a third-and-10 post to Terrance Williams.
Ryan took four cornerbacks in his final five drafts with the Jets. Yes, he'll be tempted again to go corner at some point in April, especially with Gilmore entering a contract year. With Butler, however, this is not a pressing need.
"It definitely gives you more motivation and shows what you can bring to the table," Butler said of his final two games. "You can only control what you can. I’ve been doing that my whole career and looking forward to this year. We’re going to have a solid team, being able to build off those last two games last year.
"I’m sure coaches analyzed film and when we get back in April we’ll see what we can build off of and get better.”