Back in March, during a wonderfully measured and diplomatic interview on NBC Sports Radio, Tyrann Mathieu admitted that looming contract negotiations with the Cardinals this offseason would be “kind of a wrestling match,” but held faith that the two sides would find middle ground. On Tuesday, Arizona renewed him on a five-year extension worth more than $12 million a season, making the Honey Badger — who don’t care — the highest-paid safety in the league. (He is actually more of a hybrid cornerback-safety, but whatever — semantics, and also security.)
Naturally, shaking $40 million guaranteed out of a duffle bag and onto the conference table to lock up a safety long term raises a few questions, namely: “Is this safety worth $40 million guaranteed?” That’s especially relevant since Mathieu has torn the ACL in each of his knees since being drafted in 2013. And he’s only 5-foot-9.
But here’s the thing: Mathieu has stifled some of the league’s best wideouts. To throw some math at you, according to Pro Football Focus, he led all NFL cornerbacks with a 91.5 coverage grade in the 2015 season, allowing an average QB grade of 77.6 and giving up just over a yard per cover snap. In other words, Tyrann Mathieu plays hush-mouth defense.
Because no one really cares about math, though, and especially not you, here are a few of the reasons Mathieu just got paid.
1. He did this to Jared Cook.
In the first quarter of Arizona’s Week 1 matchup against the Rams from 2013, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford hit tight end Jared Cook with a perfect pass in the seam. Cook was headed toward the end zone to deposit it, looking good, feeling great. Then Mathieu came galloping in from offscreen like BITCH YOU THOUGHT and popped that 7–0 lead right out of Cook’s hands on the 3-yard line.
This was the first of a lot of forced fumbles to come.
2. He ate Adrian Peterson like he was a snack.
Last December, Mathieu chased down the 30-year-old Peterson on a safety blitz and kindly reminded him — with relative ease — that no matter where he goes, no matter what he does, he’ll never be as good as Eric Dickerson.
Oh, and that time is undefeated, and eventually we’ll all be dust.
3. He broke Colin Kaepernick.
Within the first six minutes of the 49ers’ 47–7 loss to the Cardinals last September, quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw two nearly identical pick-sixes. The first went to Justin Bethel, and the second went to Mathieu, who high-stepped it to paydirt.
This was part of San Francisco’s 2–6 start to the 2015 season, and in early November, Kaepernick was benched for Blaine Gabbert. After the change, Mathieu weighed in and plunged Kaepernick’s world into eternal darkness:
“It seems like [Gabbert] takes care of the football way better. If he gets in a situation where he feels pressure, he’s not just going to give the defense an opportunity to make a play.”
Kaepernick has scarcely been seen or heard from again. Actually, if you Google “Colin Kaepernick,” this is what pops up.
4. He tweets inspirational quotes … from himself.
So, Lil B does this thing where he puts an em dash and his own name after everything he types. (Tom Hanks actually does the same thing with his tweets, signing everything with “Hanx,” but they lack the em dash and feel less deliberate and considerably less tight.) He’ll say, “Oh wow reverse Lil B layup, amazing! — Lil B,” or, “all blacks are gothic — Lil B.” It’s like a footer on an email, but more life-affirming and edifying. Back in April, Tyrann Mathieu tried this on for size, and while it wasn’t a permanent change, it was an incredibly inspiring 30-some-odd minutes.
5. He was a steal to begin with.
Mathieu has been an incredible value for the Cardinals over his first three seasons in the league, considering he went with the no. 69 overall pick (control yourselves) in the 2013 draft. He likely would’ve been a first-rounder had he not committed the unpardonable sin of smoking some weed in college (a gentle reminder that he has been to rehab, twice, for smoking weed). He was a Heisman Trophy finalist — as a safety — the year before he was booted from the LSU football team for violating its drug policy.
He windmill dunked on the entire state of Georgia for Christ’s sake.
The Cardinals, by making Mathieu the NFL’s highest-paid safety, as opposed to the highest-paid cornerback — which again, Mathieu is, 68 percent of the time — didn’t spend as much as they could have. The going rate to slap a franchise tag on a cornerback — which would award Mathieu the average of the five highest-paid corners in the league — is just shy of $14 million a year. What’s more, Mathieu has done everything Arizona has asked of him and more.
Let that man get his money.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Tyrann Mathieu tore the ACL in his right knee twice; he has torn the ACL in each of his knees.