When Malcolm Butler first signed with the Cardinals, he was looking to change his jersey number.
The veteran cornerback had worn No. 7 in college, and with the NFL allowing it's defensive backs to use single digits, a new team was a perfect time for a new number. Except he heard new teammate Byron Murphy wanted to get No. 7.
So Butler stuck with the No. 21 he had been wearing. Never mind that the number had been worn on the Cardinals for a decade by multi-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, who left as a free agent – and whom Butler was ostensibly signed to take the place of on the depth chart.
"That's no disrespect to Patrick Peterson," said Butler, who added he got permission from the team to wear it. "I'm not trying to replace him. I'm Malcolm Butler."
Other than the number, Butler is right – he is a different kind of cornerback than Peterson. Peterson was the lockdown cover guy for a long time. Butler, although his most famous play was a Super Bowl interception, is know for his physicality and tackling skills.
That was the kind of player defensive coordinator Vance Joseph sought to add in the offseason, to join Byron Murphy as corners who can tackle.
"(Malcolm) brings an edge," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Scrappy player, always been overlooked, coming out of college, undersized, just the demeanor, that play style, it's good for our younger players.
"You know he's not afraid to mix it up."
Butler and Murphy are listed as the starters for the Cardinals' revamped cornerbacks room, although in the oft times the team deploys three cornerbacks, Murphy is still expected to play inside with veteran Robert Alford on the opposite side of Butler.
Kingsbury called Butler a "playmaker," but noted he's pretty humble. For a guy who is practicing daily in a stadium where he made one of the biggest plays in NFL history – the goal-line interception of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to steal a Super Bowl win for the Patriots – Butler is low-key about it.
The subject has come up with his new team, but the first anecdote Butler relays about it is about a teammate telling him he was so young he was at his school bus stop talking about it when it happened.
"I'm getting a little older," Butler said with a smile.
Kingsbury, a one-time Patriot who is close friends with then-Patriots wideout Danny Amendola, was actually at State Farm Stadium that day watching Butler make the play and celebrating the win. Butler said he hasn't really made a pilgrimage to the spot on the south end of the field where he made that play – that'll probably come about when the field is centered into the stadium on a game day.
But he will reminisce about what happened at the end of what was his rookie season, at once acknowledging it took confidence in the coaches to put him out there in that situation but at the same time noting, "I earned it."
"You never know when your opportunity is going to come," Butler said.
Heading into his eighth NFL season now, he's also earned the chance to wear No. 21. He has also earned, at age 31, the chance to show while he might not be Peterson, he can still perform.
"I still have a chip on my shoulder, I'm still healthy, I still want more in my career," Butler said. "I still want more."