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NFL.com’s Rosenthal: Cardinals’ Mathieu a trade candidate to watch

Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) intercepts a pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

No player played more snaps during the 2017 NFL season than Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

According to Football Outsiders, Mathieu played 1,263 snaps — 1,056 on defense and 207 on special teams — under defensive coordinator James Bettcher and head coach Bruce Arians last season.

That’s significant in itself and even moreso considering the 25-year-old has twice suffered ACL tears, the latest one in December 2015.

Mathieu’s game-altering plays haven’t been as frequent since that injury — he had one forced fumble and two picks in 2017 — yet he’s remained a solid contributor. He signed a five-year contract extension in 2016, but less than two calendar years later, the Cardinals can evaluate whether his projected production is worth the hefty price tag.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal lists Mathieu as a potential high-profile trade candidate for that reason.

Mathieu gets $19 million guaranteed over the next two years if he’s on the roster on March 14. That could inspire the Cardinals to renegotiate his contract or potentially examine the trade market for him, especially with talented safety Budda Baker waiting in the wings. I would recommend just paying Mathieu his money. Bank on him continuing to recover his explosive play another year removed from surgery. Mathieu isn’t a player who is easily replaced.

Mathieu will be paid $5.75 million in base salary but has $8 million of his 2019 salary guaranteed if he’s on the Cardinals by March 14, when the new league year begins. He also has a $5 million roster bonus owed on March 16, per Spotrac.com.

By total cap hit ($14.1 million), he is the fourth-highest cap hit on the Cardinals’ roster for 2018, according to Spotrac.com.

Playing in all 16 regular season games for the first time, Mathieu recorded 78 tackles in 2017, second-most in his five-year career.

A big factor in how Arizona moves forward regarding Mathieu’s contract is first-year coach Steve Wilks, a defensive backs coach by trade. He might have a few new ideas about how to employ Mathieu, who became one of the NFL’s most versatile and productive slot defenders before his last knee injury.

The Cardinals’ refurbishing plans with quarterback Carson Palmer retired and a new coaching staff in place will also relate to what they do with Mathieu.

If they are desperate to give themselves more financial flexibility, finding a way to move Mathieu could be an option. Doing so might not be so easy with his injury history raising concerns for would-be trade partners.

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