Carolina Panthers case for picking up Vernon Butler option
Carolina Panthers face difficult decision with defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
Being drafted in the first-round comes with a high priced rookie contract, but players who are selected during the first day of the NFL Draft also give their teams an option to keep them for an additional year. The deadline for those taken in the 2016 draft is approaching on May 3 and the Carolina Panthers have a decision to make.
Following their Super Bowl appearance, former general manager Dave Gettleman let starting cornerback Josh Norman leave after rescinding his franchise tag. The move led Carolina to draft three players from the position in the upcoming draft but one wasn’t highlighted during the first-round. Instead, the Panthers selected Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler. Somewhat of a surprise but given Gettleman’s love of lineman, it wasn’t too shocking.
Since, Butler has seen limited opportunities and hasn’t developed into a reliable lineman. A rotational philosophy is somewhat to blame but even when on the field, his production hasn’t been stellar. In three seasons, Butler averaged 15 tackles a year and has just two sacks. There have been positive signs but if Carolina picks up his fifth-year option remains to be seen.
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According to Joe Person of The Athletic, current general manager, Marty Hurney, hasn’t yet made a decision. On the surface, Butler’s numbers to this point tend to have people believing his time with the Panthers is coming to a close but a deeper examination reveals at least one key factor that could have him remain for another season.
The Panthers have announced plans to shift into 3-4 defensive fronts in 2019 and while coach Ron Rivera won’t fully transition his defense, the hybrid system expected to be employed should favor Butler. During his time in college, Butler thrived as a defensive tackle in a similar front, earning first-team All Conference honors his senior season after registering 50 tackles and three sacks.
In four years, he made 168 total tackles including nearly 30 for a loss. In addition, Butler clogged up running lanes and proved to be a versatile interior lineman with good athleticism and was projected as an early draft pick with a high ceiling.
His play hasn’t been consistent but Butler has flashed signs of being a capable every down tackle and a change in defensive strategy could be just the opportunity he needs.