January 12, 2018

The numbers add up for Crezdon Butler

Liam Richards/Electric Umbrella

Crezdon Butler is fine, thanks.

There were some brief moments of uncertainty about the defensive back’s status with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Tuesday, when the CFL team introduced quarterback Zach Collaros to the media at Mosaic Stadium.

Collaros posed for pictures with a No. 17 jersey — the same number Butler wore for Saskatchewan last season. It turned out that Butler had simply agreed to give up the number to the team’s new QB.

“I got some text messages from teammates asking, ‘Is everything good? What happened?’ ” says a chuckling Butler, who next season will sport the No. 5 worn in 2017 by the now-departed Kevin Glenn.

“(The Roughriders) were good about it. (Collaros) didn’t just show up and get 17. I didn’t look on Instagram and find out, ‘Uh-oh. I guess I can’t wear that number.’ They called and asked me if I was willing to let him wear 17.

“It wasn’t a number that I needed or wanted, so it wasn’t really hard to give up. I was No. 5 in high school (in Asheville, N.C.) so I was actually waiting on that number to open up.”

Numbers have been a topic throughout Butler’s first off-season as a member of the Roughriders. In addition to his jersey number, his contract numbers also were discussed.

On Dec. 29, Saskatchewan announced that the 30-year-old product of Clemson University had signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Roughriders through the 2019 season. Butler notes that “the feel” of being with the team prompted him to sign the extension instead of waiting to see how the 2018 season played out.

“With the coaches, the players and the scheme, I didn’t see myself on any other team,” Butler says from his off-season home in Atlanta. “I’m coming down the stretch of my career and being stabilized in a system is the best thing for me right now. That’s how I felt.

“Last year, being with the guys, I was like, ‘Man, I want to be here however long it takes for us to win a Grey Cup.’ ”

Butler signed with the Roughriders in June and was a late arrival at training camp. The 6-foot-1, 191-pounder didn’t play in any of Saskatchewan’s first three regular-season games, but was activated — and was moved into the starting lineup — for its fourth contest.

It took the former NFLer some time to adjust to the CFL game, but he developed into one of the most consistent performers in the Roughriders’ secondary. He recorded 39 tackles, four knockdowns, two sacks and a forced fumble over 15 regular-season games and added eight tackles and one fumble recovery in Saskatchewan’s two-game playoff run.

“As a player, you evaluate yourself after every practice, after every game and after every season, and you should never get comfortable,” Butler says when asked to assess his 2017 campaign. “I like being the underdog and flying under the radar. Then, once game time comes, people are like, ‘Who’s that No. 17?’ — or now, ‘Who’s that No. 5?’

“That’s what fuels me. That’s what makes me practise even harder or work out even more. It’s not to be known by people. When game day comes, they’ll know who you are after the game. That’s big for me.”

Butler came to the CFL after playing 46 games over seven NFL seasons.

Selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round (164th overall) of the 2010 draft, Butler played four games with the Steelers as a rookie, but was waived in September of 2011.

His NFL career also included stops with the Arizona Cardinals (2011), Washington Redskins (2012), Cardinals (2012), Buffalo Bills (2012), San Diego Chargers (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014), Seattle Seahawks (2015) and Detroit Lions (2015-16).

Detroit didn’t sign Butler after the 2016 season, so he became a free agent in March of 2017. When he didn’t receive any calls from NFL teams, he looked north — and found the Roughriders.

Less than one calendar year later, Butler says Saskatchewan “feels like home right now.”

“The CFL was a fresh start,” he adds. “Nobody really knows you in this league (when you first arrive), so you’ve got to earn the trust of your teammates and your coaches.

“It was kind of like starting a new resumé. It’s about building friendships and building respect, not only on your team but across the league. That’s what I did last year and I’m ready to continue that in 2018.”

To date, Butler has spent the off-season being a family man. He and his wife have three kids at home (a nine- and an eight-year-old as well as a six-month-old), so his preparations for the 2018 season have yet to begin in earnest.

After taking some verbal abuse from some of his Roughriders teammates over Clemson’s loss to Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal (“We’re all in a group chat, so they gave me a hard time,” he admits), he has turned his attention to the NFL post-season.

Butler remains a Steelers fan and has numerous friends whose teams are still playing, so he’s keeping an eye on the playoffs. But he won’t get caught up in the notion that he still could be in that league.

“Being there for so long, part of me wants to go back, but I am where I am in my life and I am where I am in my career,” he says. “You can’t live your life with regrets. You’ve just got to live.”