When his rookie season wraps up following Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Vernon Butler plans to return home to Summit, Miss., for a little down time.
Butler signed an $8.4 million contract that included a $4.3 million signing bonus after the Panthers drafted him with the 30th pick. But he’ll follow the trend of the boomerang generation when he lives with his parents for at least part of the offseason.
Butler has not bought his first home.
“Nah, I haven’t had time for none of that yet,” he said this week.
Butler’s first NFL season has been a bit of an up-and-down blur, interrupted by a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for five games and cut into his development.
Butler’s impact was expected to be limited, given that he was joining a deep position group headlined by Pro Bowler Kawann Short and former first-round pick Star Lotulelei.
Butler, who was inactive for the Oakland game Nov. 27, heads into Sunday’s finale with only 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback pressures.
“The hard thing is he missed those five weeks with the high ankle (sprain) and ever since then he’s been working his way back up. Now you see it. You’re starting to see the explosiveness, the play-making,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday.
“He’s still got some things to learn ... but those are little detailed things that he’ll learn as he continues to play,” Rivera added. “We have seen some really good flashes to keep us excited.”
One area where Butler has excelled is blocking kicks. He has gotten his hand on two kicks, including a field-goal attempt by the Saints’ Wil Lutz on Nov. 17 that linebacker Luke Kuechly returned for a touchdown that was nullified by penalty.
Butler, who is 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, says he doesn’t jump to block the kicks, but tries to penetrate and get his long arms in the air.
Rivera says Butler has a knack for making himself “skinny” on the field-goal blocks and finding the crease between offensive linemen.
Butler hasn’t decided where he’ll work out this offseason. But he acknowledged one of the benefits of living at home.
“Gotta save money,” he said, smiling.