When the Arizona Cardinals signed Tyrann Mathieu to a five-year contract Tuesday that made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL, any quibbles about it would begin with mention of the defensive back’s two ACL injuries before his 25th birthday.
Nonetheless, it appears that such a unique hybrid player signing such a unique contract could be worth the price tag.
ESPN Insider’s Matt Bowen said the Honey Badger is “worth every penny” of his new contract that with bonuses could eclipse the $60 million mark.
We’ll get to the reasoning there in a bit. First, let’s turn to NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, who divulged the details of Mathieu’s new contract.
A large chunk of the contract comes up front: Without a physical, Mathieu will make $15.5 million thanks to a signing bonus.
The 2016 and 2017 base salaries jump from $1 million to $4.75 million as the new deal begins, but the key for the Cardinals is that they protected themselves if Mathieu’s injuries pop up thereafter.
Here are more details from Florio.
4. Salary of $5.75 million in 2018, not guaranteed at signing for injury or otherwise. On the first day of the 2018 league year, it becomes fully guaranteed.
5. Roster bonus of $5 million due on the third day of the 2018 league year.
6. Salary of $10.75 million in 2019, $8 million of which becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2018 league year.
As you can see, Arizona has backloaded the contract in a major way.
After 2019, Mathieu has another non-guaranteed $10.75 million in 2020 and a non-guaranteed $9.25 million in 2012. There are additional bonuses for winning Defensive Player of the Year honors from 2017-2021 and a separate bonus for winning the award in every one of those seasons, reports Florio.
So why is Mathieu, with his injury history and his position, worth all that cash?
Bowen lays out his unique abilities flatly.
Sixty-two percent of his total snaps came in the slot, while he played 21 percent at linebacker, 12 percent at safety and 5 percent outside of the numbers at cornerback. You want true versatility? Yeah, this is what it looks like.
With Mathieu, the Cardinals can take away specific offensive targets (or schemes) based on down and distance, game situation or field position. Mathieu can be a run defender one play and then roll to the middle of the field on the next snap. He has a role in base, nickel and any other package you want to draw up.
That also gives the Cardinals an enormous amount of flexibility in the game plan and with their own personnel.
In short, the contract was the best of both worlds: It rewarded Mathieu’s unique abilities with a large signing bonus and backloaded the deal with large non-guaranteed salaries that won’t be on the Cardinals’ tab if the defensive back struggles with injuries.