Butler, Kirk, Williams vying for Cardinals No. 2 wide receiver spot
TEMPE, Ariz. – When Brice Butler entered NFL free agency this spring, he had two goals in mind: escape what he felt was a dead-end situation in Dallas and find a place where the door to his dream role was still open.
“Just getting opportunity in this league is huge,” Butler said. “People think that if you’re on a team or you’ve got a tryout that means an equal opportunity to get on the field and that’s not necessarily true at all. You don’t always get the opportunity even if you feel you deserve it.
“If it works out and you do what you’re supposed to do, it’s blessing to get that opportunity. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you can at least say ‘Hey, I had the opportunity and it didn’t work out,’ rather than saying, ‘I was doing it but they never gave me the opportunity.’”
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and coach Steve Wilks convinced Butler that he would have that opportunity in Arizona.
Butler isn’t alone in wanting to secure the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, however.
A pair of recent draft picks – 2018 second-round pick Christian Kirk (No. 47) and 2017 third-round pick Chad Williams (No. 98) – are Butler’s top competition, but J.J. Nelson, Cobi Hamilton, Carlton Agudosi and others are also in the mix.
The Cardinals need more than one of those players to take a quantum leap from previous production.
Fitzgerald led the Cardinals last season with 109 receptions for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns. The next-closest players in receptions were running back Andre Ellington (33), tight end Jermaine Gresham (33), Jaron Brown (31), Nelson (29) and John Brown (21). Nelson was second in yards with 508.
“Everybody sees themselves as a guy that can excel and get better,” Butler said. “Even Larry, every day, he is talking about getting better. You don’t want to stay stagnant.
“Now, you have to do great work with the little opportunity that you might get to get to the next level, but it’s not a bad thing to not like the situation you’re in. You just have to take care of that situation and that’s why I left (Dallas). I felt like I took care of my situation and now the only way I’m going to get where I want to get to be is if I leave. My old team let go of a lot of pieces that people felt were in my way but I still I like where I’m at now.”
Williams was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season, catching just three passes and simply struggling to get on the field, a reality that is increasingly common with rookie receivers as they adjust to significantly different styles of play in the NFL.
He only played six games.
“I’m not mad about how last season went because God makes no mistakes,” Williams said. “I feel like I learned so much last season. At this mark last year, I was a little timid, a little unsure. It got overwhelming at times but then you just have to calm down, ease back and realize it’s just football at the end of the day.
“Like I said the other day in an interview, I know where the bathroom is now. It gets as simple as that. Year 2 is much easier than Year 1. I’m accustomed to the detail of these things that I didn’t know last year. I learned last year so it kind of puts me over the hump.”
Both players will have to battle Kirk, who has looked fluid and confident early in OTAs.
“I think I am 100 percent ready,” said Kirk, who had 71 catches for 919 yards and 10 TDs his junior season at Texas A&M before declaring for the NFL Draft. “I know that is why Mr. [Michael] Bidwill, Mr. Keim, and Coach Wilks drafted me, because they wanted me to come in and play and help them win games. At the end of the day, that is what I am here to do.”
Butler, the Oakland Raiders seventh-round pick (No. 209) in 2013, played the past three seasons with the Cowboys. He caught 43 catches for 794 yards and six touchdowns while serving mostly as the No. 4 receiver behind Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley.
“I can pretty much do everything,” said Butler, who is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. “I can take a slant to the house. I can catch a go-ball — that was all I did in Dallas — but I can do it all. If you look at my plays in Oakland and in Dallas, I could catch short balls and make plays or catch the deep ball and score touchdowns or climb over a defender to make a catch.
“And then, I can go block. I had to do that a lot, being a guy that might not that many opportunities in the pass game. I’m a bigger guy so it’s kind of expected.”
Injuries, performance and matchups could make the competition for this spot a fluid process, but all three players know that opportunities like this don’t come often in the NFL.
“I’m viewing it like I view everything else. I’m just staying hungry,” Williams said. “There’s an opportunity there but there’s always an opportunity. You can’t just run through the door, you’ve got to kick the door down with what you do so I’m just trying to get better, one day at a time.”