ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jake Butt’s most expensive football game wasn’t one he attended in the stands, or rather a private suite, it was a game he was on the field for wearing a helmet and pads.
While star college players like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette decided to sit out their team's bowl games to avoid injury in preparation for the NFL draft, Butt decided to lace them up one last time for Michigan. However, on a routine 16-yard catch and run in the second quarter, Butt’s bowl game gamble came crashing down as he tore his ACL.
As a senior, Butt had no choice but to watch his draft stock dramatically fall in the months leading up to the NFL Draft. Once thought to be a top tight end that would be selected in the first two rounds of the draft, Butt’s value plunged into a day three prospect.
Despite his dramatic fall, though, Butt wouldn't change a thing.
“I’ll never regret playing in a football game in my life. I don’t play football because of the money or the fame or the hype or anything,” Butt said. “I play football because it’s what I love to do. I was dedicated to my team at Michigan.”
And on the third day of the NFL Draft, right around Noon Mountain Standard Time, Butt received a phone call from the 303 area code. On the other side of the line was Broncos’ general manager John Elway letting him know that he would be their selection with the first pick in the fifth round.
“I’m going to be a dedicated Denver Bronco, and it’s never going to cross my mind to sit out of a game because of money or any other possibility,” he said to the Denver media shortly after being drafted. “I’m out there, and I’m going to give it my all every time I step on that field. I still have absolutely no regrets, and again, I’m just happy it worked out like this because I’m a Denver Bronco.”
Butt’s draft fall did cost him significantly financially. As an early-round pick, which he very well was projected to be before the injury, Butt would have received a contract similar to the Chargers’ tight end Hunter Henry, the fourth pick in the second round in 2016. Henry received a four-year deal worth $6.38 million with $3.981 guaranteed.
Instead, as the first pick in the fifth-round, Butt will receive a contract similar to that of 2016 first pick in the fifth-round, Tennessee’s Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe’s four-year contract is worth a total of $2.615 million with only $274,884 guaranteed.
“There’s so much more that will go into [the insurance policy] than I’m able to understand right now, and that’s going to be something that I have to speak to with my agent and my dad and some lawyers about,” he said. “I’m really not thinking about that right now. I really mean it when I say it’s not about the money. For me, it’s just being competitive, and I’m just trusting this timing, and I’m trusting this plan God has for me because I’m so happy to be a Bronco.”
As for getting back on the football field, Butt is on the road to recovery. When asked if he will be ready for the start of the season in September, he said, “That is ambitious.”
“[The] last time when I tore my ACL the first time around, they told me, ‘You’re probably going to get redshirted, or you won’t play until Big Ten season,’” he said. “I said, ‘You know what, you guys can think that.’ I ended up playing in Week 2, so I’ve always been ambitious. I think that’s what helps me unlock my full potential, setting goals that many people might think are crazy and then going out there and doing it.”
Butt’s previous ACL tear occurred in the 2014 offseason workouts at Michigan. However, he sees this time around potentially being easier, not only because it’s his second go-around, but because the injury isn’t as bad.
“The first time around, I had a meniscus [tear], so they had to stitch up the meniscus, so on the front end, I wasn’t weight-bearing for eight weeks,” he said. “It was a little slower on the front end. This time, I was off crutches in two weeks, and I’ve been lifting sooner and running sooner. I’m right on schedule with where I was with my last ACL… The plan right now is to be ready for the beginning of the season. I don’t see why that’s not possible, so I can’t wait to get out there in Denver and start working.”
When healthy, the 2016 John Mackey Award winner — given out to the nation's top tight end — brings an explosive weapon to the offense in the receiving game. In 2016, he had 546 receiving yards on 46 receptions and four touchdowns. Along with high-caliber play, his team-first mentality extends on the field, too.
“You’re going to get a versatile tight end that you can line up really anywhere on the field who can do a lot of different things,” Butt said. “I think I can move the chains on 3rd-and-8 in man or zone coverage, whatever it is. Then 3rd-and-1, I want to stay on that field and make the key block to move the chains if we need a big run. You can line me up in the backfield, flex me in the slot, use me as move tight end or an in-line blocker. I know I’m not where I need to be as a player, where I want to be, but I’m excited to work toward it and become a better and better player for this organization.”
While occasionally players say they don’t play football for the money, Jake Butt makes it believable.