INDIANAPOLIS —Darius Butler originally came to Indianapolis in 2012 as an unrestricted free agent cornerback, the same year quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton were drafted.
The trio experienced three immediate years of success and growth, as the Colts finished with 11-5 records from 2012-2014, twice winning the AFC South Division Championship, and each year advancing one additional round in the playoffs.
Since falling to the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship game, however, the Colts have hit a rut that took an especially ugly turn in 2017, as Luck missed the entire season as he continued to recover from shoulder surgery. The Colts' 4-12 record, the first losing season for the franchise since 2011 and only its third losing record since 1999, has brought about a change at head coach — and has also left a bad taste in Butler's mouth.
"I was here from the beginning, from 2012," Butler said. "The first three years you kind of take for granted now. Back then you're getting to the playoffs year in and year out, getting a step further every year and then these last three have just fallen short. So I'd like to come back and finish what we started."
Last March Butler signed a one-year contract to return to the Colts as a free safety, switching over from his normal spot at cornerback to provide leadership all around the defensive backfield, which has mostly undergone a youth movement the past couple offseasons.
Playing in 15 games with four starts in 2017, Butler admitted the season had its obvious "challenging" moments, but thought he saw growth all around the field for the defense.
"You learn and you find lessons in all the losses, all the ups all the downs, and I was just trying to give as much knowledge as I could as far as the games," the nine-year veteran said. "We had so many young guys who really, honestly, just had no idea. It's no fault of theirs, you know they're young they come in wet behind the ears you're just learning and thrown in the fire. And they did a great job for the most part and I'm proud of those guys and I'm anxious to see their careers unfold."
The Colts held the lead or were tied at halftime in 10 out of 16 games this season, a sign that the team might not far off from a drastic improvement, especially with the young players who earned valuable reps this season; guys like cornerbacks Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore II and Quincy Wilson, and safeties Matthias Farley, T.J. Green and Malik Hooker.
"It will help. It will help tremendously," Butler said. "A lot of them had a lot of opportunity to play that they wouldn't have gotten in a lot of different situations. You know you get that learning experience and the other experience you know being in a lot of close games or leading at halftime then losing in the second half. You learn from that. You have to learn how to win. You have to get beat by certain things and these players they'll definitely learn from it."
Butler is once again heading into the offseason an unrestricted free agent, but didn't hide his desire to see his young teammates grow, his affinity for Indianapolis or his hope to remain with the Colts once the season ended.
"I definitely would like to be back," Butler said. "I'd love to be back with this organization. This organization has meant a lot to me. I've done some great things, won a lot of games here. I have been here for six years now. I've kind of been engrained in the community."
"Deuce0," Butler's nickname, is known for his impact on the field, but behind the scenes he also gives back to those in need throughout Indianapolis and his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., through The Darius Butler Foundation, established by the player and his family.
His efforts earned him the Colts' 2017 nomination, voted on by the players, for the NFL's Walter Payton NFL Man of The Year Award, and it is something Butler takes extreme pride in, giving back to those who haven't had the opportunities he has had. The Foundation's mission is to "tackle hunger in underserved communities, inspire at-risk youth to achieve their dreams and score in the classroom."
Butler will learn later this month if he is one of the finalists for the award, with the overall winner being announced during the NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 3.
"I love the community here, so I love the city," Butler said. "I love the team but you know how this business is, so we'll see how this shakes out."2018 Colts Free Agent Watch:* *
- Wide receiver Kamar Aiken
- Inside linebacker Jon Bostic
- Safety Darius Butler
- Cornerback Pierre Desir
- Running back Frank Gore
- Cornerback Rashaan Melvin
- Guard Jack Mewhort
- Running back Christine Michael
- Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo
- Wide receiver Donte Moncrief
- Center Mike Person
- Quarterback Scott Tolzien
- Kicker Adam Vinatieri
- Tight end Brandon Williams
20 Butler, Darius S 5-10 192lbs 31yrs 9yrs Connecticut