By now, everyone who knows football has at least heard the name ‘Malcolm Butler‘ before. Malcolm is the player who picked off Russell Wilson’s improbable last-second pass into the end zone, sealing a Super Bowl win for the Patriots last February.
For War Story Wednesday, I thought I’d tell the improbable story of how Malcolm made it to Glendale in the first place. I’ll turn it over to Butler’s agent, Derek Simpson, to tell the against-the-odds tale of how his one and only active client made it to the NFL.
“I had developed a relationship with a guy named Johnny Jackson, and Jackson has a workout facility in Tuscaloosa called JDPI sports. Jackson had played at West Alabama, and I had a cousin who worked there, and Johnny had called my cousin and asked if there were any good agents he could refer a player to, so Johnny calls me and we hit it off, and I go to Tuscaloosa and meet him, and I had a couple players I had already signed for the draft (Alabama’s Tana Patrick and North Alabama’s Tavarious Wilson, the DII player of the year), and I would go to the gym and talk with them.
“Malcolm was working out at the gym, and he contacted me and said, ‘I just really liked the way you talk to Tana and Travarious, and you have a great reputation, and can you represent me?’ I did my homework, and he was a great player flying well below the radar. He had played in the Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, and I was not his agent, but he had an interception in that game and a really good week of practice, so when I got involved, I said, ‘I gotta get you into Alabama’s pro day – that will be like getting you in the combine.’ And two years ago, ‘Bama had dominated the draft, so I knew there would be an enormous amount of scouts there. And (Alabama head coach Nick) Saban had said that if you can get these DII guys in here, that’s great, because the more the better. So I got no pushback. I think Saban is so accommodating, from what I understand, that even if players don’t go there, he wants to give everyone an opportunity. The one thing I learned was the worst thing they can say is no, so we had nothing to lose.
“I didn’t have any contacts, but the strength and conditioning coaches run those pro days, and I spoke to (strength coach) Scott Cochran there, and I told him, ‘you don’t know me, but my name is Derek Simpson, and I represent Malcolm Butler. Malcolm was in the Medal of Honor Bowl. Is there any way we can get him into Alabama’s pro day?’ I had no idea what he was gonna say, either yes, no, or don’t call me again, but he checked on it, and he called me back, and he said, ‘he needs to be here at this certain time, ready to go.’ If there was a graph of Malcolm’s draft journey, it was on the uptick. We started by getting no phone calls and no texts from anybody, which was right when I got involved, and then about 3-4 weeks before pro day, some teams knew he had had a good Medal of Honor Bowl and was a good player, but he’s a Division II player. Are we gonna take a risk on somebody like him? So he had everything for a DII player going for him. Not only did he have the pick in the bowl game, but he had great credentials.
“So we started getting some emails, texts, and phone calls from scouts, and it just started going up, and I said, ‘wow, this is exciting because usually I’m trying to get scouts on the phone,’ so it was really nice that they were calling and leaving me messages.
“So the ‘draft graph’ topped out at pro day. Everybody is waiting to see how he does at the pro day. He goes to pro day and calls me and says, ‘I ran a 4.6.’ I said, ‘Malcolm, I could run a 4.6 in my church shoes. That’s not going to get us anywhere.’ So the graph was at its top, and right when he ran a 4.6, it went straight down to nothing. No texts, phone calls, no emails, no returned phone calls. And it was like we had fallen off the face of the earth. It was brutal.
“I told Malcolm, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. You have to be uncommon to be in the NFL, and a 4.6 is common.’ So we go through the whole draft and don’t get any phone calls, which I expected. Then afterwards, we get all the undrafted free agents calls, and I get some calls on my other clients, but I’m sitting there and (defensive backs coach) Josh Boyer from the Patriots calls, and said, ‘is Malcolm still available?’ We hadn’t had any calls in weeks, so I had to play a little poker, and I said, ‘right now he is,’ and Boyer said, ‘I think he’s faster than a 4.6, and I believe in Malcolm, and I think he can play at this level. All I can offer him is a tryout and he can sign a release and we’ll fly him out for the weekend, and if we decide to keep him, then we’ll offer him a undrafted free agent contract.’ And I called Malcolm and I said, ‘this is all we have.’
“So they fly him from Jackson, Miss., to New England, and he’s not off the plane an hour and they have him running a 40. They told him, ‘go put on your cleats and run a 40,’ and he ran a 4.4, and they kept him. So he went from a tryout to an undrafted free agent, and it’s been a whirlwind since that moment. (During camp), I’m reading everything I can get my hands on to see how he did in practice, and the articles said, ‘he picked off Brady,’ or ‘he broke up a pass,’ and it went from one word in a story to one sentence to a paragraph, and I said, ‘maybe you’ll make the practice squad,’ and then he made the 53. There were some weeks he was active, and some he wasn’t active, and he worked, worked, worked.”