Recovering Mathieu encouraged by prospect of staying with Cardinals long-term

Jan 26, 2016, 11:44 AM | Updated: Jan 27, 2016, 12:54 pm
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu cleans out his locker, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Tempe...
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu cleans out his locker, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship football game to end their season. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It did not take very long for Tyrann Mathieu to make his mark on the Arizona Cardinals.

A third-round pick in the 2013 draft out of LSU, he quickly became one of the most dynamic and dominant players on the defense.

As a rookie, he notched 63 total tackles along with one sack, two interceptions and 15 passes defensed in 13 games before suffering a torn ACL and LCL.

In his second season, Mathieu’s quick recovery allowed him to be active for the team’s second game of the season, and he went on to appear in 13 games, tallying 39 total tackles, one interception and five passes defensed.

He was admittedly not himself that season, though, and believed he would be back to his normal self the following season.

Mathieu was right.

This past season, the “Honey Badger” was in top form, finishing with 89 total tackles, one sack, five interceptions and 17 passes defensed. He had put himself in the conversation for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, and was a big reason as to why the Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the league.

Unfortunately, he tore an ACL in the team’s Week 15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles while making an interception, cutting yet another season short. However, despite his injury history and because of his effectiveness and leadership, the team appears set on trying to lock Mathieu up with a long-term contract this offseason.

For his part, Mathieu is perfectly fine with the idea.

“That’s very encouraging,” he said. “Obviously I love this team, I love our locker room, I love our coaching staff, upper management.

“I think this is the perfect place for me so I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life here.”

The idea that the team would want to keep Mathieu around for the long haul is not at all surprising or unwarranted. Though he entered the league with a checkered past, he has been a model citizen and someone head coach Bruce Arians has proclaimed to be his favorite draft pick. The 23-year-old has become one of the faces of the franchise, and his level of importance was magnified when he was no longer able to play.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, when asked by Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday about whether or not the team’s secondary is a strength, weakness or average part of the team, began his answer by talking about Mathieu.

“When we lost Ty I think it’s hard to replace someone like him because of his positional flexibility and everything he does on the back end,” he said. “Whether it’s blitzing off the slot, whether it’s playing the nickle or playing the deep pass, he does so many things for you and his coverage is obviously exceptional.”

Mathieu is listed as a safety, but plays slot cornerback and is also effective in the box as a blitzer or in run support.

In terms of how much money Mathieu figures to make, there’s a good chance his extension will leave him among the highest paid safeties in the NFL. However, according to the player, that does not matter much to him.

“It’s a blessing, but I don’t play for money so it doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “Like, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s not going to distract me or deter me from my main goal, which is to continue to get better, continue to be a leader; just trying to make this team the best team in the NFL.”

Of course, that means getting back on the field, which is probably more of a concern than his contract given that Mathieu is signed through the 2016 season. Surgery to repair the tear has been done and the safety was walking with the help of crutches over the last couple of weeks since.

“I think the next step is getting off the crutches and taking that first step, and from there it’s really downhill from there,” he said of where he goes next. “So once I get off the crutches things will kind of pick up for me. It will get tougher, it will get more difficult, but that’s part of it.”

It helps, Mathieu said, that he’s been through this before. He said he rushed through the rehab the first time and did not quite come back the player he wanted to.

“So for me, it’s really just take my time with this so that I can come back 100 percent and not have one of those 2014 seasons,” he said.

What does that mean for a target date?

“I haven’t got a target date yet,” Mathieu said, before smiling and laughing. “Carson came (back by) OTAs so I figure I’m 10, 12 years younger than him, so hopefully I can make it around that time too.”

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Recovering Mathieu encouraged by prospect of staying with Cardinals long-term