Free agency is a time of rash decisions and bad players getting bad contracts, but every now and then, there are deals made that actually make sense for both the player and the team. Case and point: outside linebacker Victor Butler signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in late March.
Butler is going into his fifth season, and he’s only 25-years-old with exactly 11 sacks to his name. At first glance, that age is appealing, but the sack total isn’t. A closer look reminds us that he played behind DeMarcus Ware, who is arguably the best defender in the NFL, and that Butler only saw the field on 300 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s limited usage, especially when one considers only 132 of those snaps came in pass-rush situations.
In New Orleans, Butler’s snap count is expected to change if he wins the starting weak-side linebacker job under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. He’ll get the chance to win that job because he’s essentially working on a prove-it deal. If he doesn’t get after opposing quarterbacks and help improve the Saints’ sack total (30) from last season, he’ll be jettisoned like any other unproductive player.
But there’s a chance that Butler actually lives up this deal. He’s hungry and eager to make a name for himself in the pros. (h/t The Times-Picayune)
“I’m behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer (in Dallas),” Butler said. “Great guys to learn from, but I’d love to take those things that they’ve taught me and put them to good use. I’ve got some great teammates with Martez and Junior, some great, athletic guys and probably some of the best guys I’ve been around.
“And like I said, I’ve been around DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. But here for me, it’s just a chance to step out of the shadows and become a productive member of the team. That’s all I really want.”
He also has the talent to become a consistent, quality pass-rusher. He has a good burst, giving him the ability to cover ground quickly, and the athleticism to dip his shoulder and turn the corner. Those are things he does quite well, especially when he’s able to get his hands up and swat the blocker away like he did against King Dunlap this past season.
Dunlap, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles but is now in San Diego, was lined up at left tackle and expected to protect quarterback Nick Foles’ blindside. Unfortunately, Butler was lined up as a weak-side end in the Cowboys’ Over front.
When the ball was snapped, Butler came off the line, jabbed his left foot and gave a shoulder fake inside before rushing back outside. When he rushed outside, he raised his left arm up, which made Dunlap raise his too. As Dunlap raised his arm, Butler swatted it away with a thunderous left-handed strike.
What makes Butler’s arm swat so effective is that he’s able to prevent Dunlap from steering him wide of the pocket because he can’t extend his arms to generate any power. And while he can’t generate power, Butler’s able to stick his shoulder into the blocker’s chest, leaving Dunlap with no surface area to work with.
Because Butler was able to freely turn the corner, he flattened his rush out and accelerated to sack Foles, and strip of the ball.
Butler clearly has the talent to be a productive pass-rusher even though he only tallied three sacks and nine pressures in 2012. In 2013, he’ll have the chance to show that he can sustain production over the course of a full-season and he’s worthy of his contract, which works out very well for both teams.
If Butler doesn’t live up to his potential, the Saints can easily cut him. If he gets after the quarterback and improves the defense’s 27th ranked pass rush, he’ll make a name for himself and earn a long-term deal at the height of his career.