End of an era: Tyrann Mathieu’s career arc with the Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu joined the Cardinals in 2013 with an established reputation as a fearless safety who threw his body around with reckless abandon and someone who knew how to stir the pot.
On the Cardinals, Mathieu would reinforce that reputation by quickly becoming a fan favorite and a team leader in his five seasons with Arizona.
The 25-year-old defensive back was released by the Cardinals on Wednesday. Here is a timeline of the Honey Badger’s career with the Arizona Cardinals:
2013 NFL Draft
Mathieu declared for the NFL Draft in November of 2012. Despite spending time in drug rehab and getting kicked off the LSU football team in 2012, Mathieu impressed first-year Cardinals GM Steve Keim enough to select him in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Keim reflected on taking a chance on Mathieu during a 2016 interview with Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
“Going into my first draft as a general manager, there’s no way that I thought a player like Tyrann Mathieu should get a second chance,” Keim said. “Now that we gave Tyrann that chance and he’s turned out to be the player and the person that he has, he’s changed my thinking a little bit that some, some players deserve second chances.”
The Cardinals took a flyer on Mathieu but not before deep discussions between Keim, Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill and Mathieu’s agent regarding his off-field behavior on draft day.
Mathieu quickly became a fan favorite with the Cardinals. In the first game of his rookie year, Mathieu reinforced his Honey Badger reputation by causing a fumble by St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook as he was nearing the goal line.
His first career interception came two weeks later against 11-time pro bowler Drew Brees.
Mathieu played in 13 games his rookie season finishing with 68 tackles, two interceptions and one sack before a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee derailed his season in December. His play still earned him a spot on ESPN Insider’s 2013 all-rookie team.
Battling back from injury
Mathieu recieved a ton of support from teammates and rivals alike. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman even tweeted for a speedy recovery to the Honey Badger following the season-ending knee injury his rookie year.
Praying for a speedy recovery @Mathieu_Era
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) December 9, 2013
Man I just want to wish my boy @Mathieu_Era for a speedy recovery. Hurt me to my heart to see a King go down like that. We gone hold it down
— Patrick Peterson /P2 (@P2) December 9, 2013
In 2014 Mathieu suffered what some would call a sophomore slump. The second year defensive back finished with nearly half as many tackles as his rookie season, only one interception and no sacks or forced fumbles in the same amount of games.
Extracting the honey takes time
The Honey Badger enjoyed the best year of his career in 2015. Not only did Mathieu set a career high in tackles (80 total) and interceptions (five), Mathieu scored the only touchdown of his career, a 33-yard interception return against the 49ers in the third week of the season.
Mathieu played in 14 games that season before tearing his right ACL in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, rendering the third-year pro at the time unavailable during the team’s playoff run. Mathieu earned his first Pro Bowl selection and was named as a first team All-Pro defensive back in 2016.
Team success to follow
The Cardinals also experienced its most success as a team in the Honey Badger era in 2015. Arizona finished 13-3 to win the NFC West and made it to the NFC Championship against the Carolina Panthers before being knocked out of the playoffs. Mathieu provided emotional leadership for the his teammates during the 2015 season, sending them off against the Panthers with this inspirational speech.
Mathieu was not only a huge contributor on the field, but off the field as well. An avid dog lover, Mathieu filmed this ad for PETA which went viral receiving more than five million views.
Last two seasons
The Honey Badger’s last two seasons with the Cardinals were not as productive as his 2015 season but Mathieu was still a solid contributor.
2016 was Mathieu’s most injury-plagued year, as the safety played in only 10 games for the Cardinals after suffering a shoulder injury. His statistical output mirrored his numbers from the 2014 season despite playing in three less games compared to the 13 he played in 2014.
Mathieu led the NFL in total snaps played with 1,263 in 2017, the first season the Honey Badger played in all 16 games. His two interceptions on the season directly contributed to wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coming off his big 2015 season, Mathieu was rewarded in 2016 with a 5-year, $62.5 million contract extension.
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) August 2, 2016
Mathieu was due to make $5.75 million in base salary for 2018 but had $8 million of his 2019 salary guaranteed if he was on the Cardinals by March 14. He also had a $5 million roster bonus owed on March 16. Mathieu had the fourth-highest cap hit ($14.1 million) on the Cardinals’ roster for 2018, according to Spotrac.com.
On March 14, the Cardinals released Mathieu to the dismay of many fans and to the delight of many players around the league hoping to snag Matheiu to their own squad for the 2018 season.
The Matheiu era in Arizona ended with the defensive back having played 66 games with 307 combined tackles, 11 interceptions, four sacks and four forced fumbles.