A former second round pick of the New England Patriots, Cornerback Darius Butler landed in Charlotte on waivers prior to the Panthers 2011 season and added much-needed depth in the team’s thin secondary while filling an emergency role as a backup kick returner. The third year defensive back from the University of Connecticut may have failed to tally an interception or forced fumble, but he played an important role as the team’s starting nickelback.
2011 Season Stats: 33 total tackles (28 solo) and seven (7) defended passes in 13 games (6 starts) in which he appeared. Two of these tackles came on Special Teams.
Though he started with the Panthers as a back-up, Butler would eventually see time as a starter in the base defense. He spelled starting CB Chris Gamble for a game after he went down with a concussion the week before an October matchup with the Chicago Bears. He also started opposite Gamble after CB Captain Munnerlyn was placed on injured reserve late in the season. Butler was inactive for a pair of games earlier, and missed another due to injury. His absence against the Minnesota Vikings on October 30, the week prior to the team’s bye, was due to a family emergency involving the health of his infant daughter (she’s okay now).
Perhaps the highlight of Butler’s season came early on when the division-rival New Orleans Saints paid their annual visit to Charlotte (more after the jump…)
In the Week 5 matchup that saw the Panthers drop a heart-breaker to the eventual Division Champs (who boasted arguably the most prolific offense in league history with Quarterback Drew Brees eclipsing Dan Marino’s record for passing yardage in a season and Running Back/Punt Returner Darren Sproles setting the all-time mark for All-Purpose Yardage) Butler got the starting nod as the Nickel position, which the Panthers opened in for the first of three occasions throughout the season. He turned in a respectable performance, notching five solo tackles and defending a pair of Brees passes.
Butler would also open the game on the field at Atlanta on October 9 and again against Washington at home on the 23rd of that month, when the team opened in its Nickel Defense. His relief of Munnerlyn came at home against the Tampa Bay Bucaneers on Christmas Eve, as well as in the season finale in the New Orleans Superdome in the second meeting between the Panthers and Saints.
It was during Butler’s absence against the Houston Texans that the Panther’s 4th Round pick from the year before, CB Brandon Hogan, was first able to crack the team’s active roster and see playing time, making quite a splash. In particular, Hogan raised eyebrows when he victimized Texans Wide Receiver Ken Walter by forcing him out-of-bounds, negating what may have been a touchdown catch from rookie QB T.J. Yates. It remains to be seen what, if any, role both Butler and Hogan will play for the team during the 2012 season, though Hogan would appear to have a leg-up going into OTA’s because of the draft capital the team spent on him.
Should the Panthers go out and acquire a pair of starting cornerbacks via free agency and the draft, as many of the Panthers’ faithful are encouraging the team to do, Butler could end up being a victim of the final roster cut for a second year in a row. The Patriots parted ways with the 25-year-old at the final moment the season before. When the Panthers gleaned Butler from the wire the following week, they assumed his four-year rookie contract, which rewarded him with an annual base salary just above $1 million and extends through the 2012 season. Next year, he is set to earn about $1.3 million. Prior to 2013 season, Butler will become an Undesignated Free Agent, free to sign with any team.
Thus far in his career, Butler has been unable to duplicate the success of his rookie campaign with the 2009 Patriots, when he totaled three interceptions, including a 91-yard pick six from the arm of Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub. Despite his struggles to make his mark in the NFL, Butler has all the appearances of a high-character guy who remains active in the Coral Gables, Fla. community where he attended high school and has used his good fortune in football to work with needy families through the Darius Butler Foundation he founded. He is also accessible to fans through his Twitter page: dariusbutler27.