The Arizona Cardinals’ contract extension with star defensive player Tyrann Mathieu exemplified a situation where the obvious can become complicated.
According to multiple reports, the deal was for five years and slightly more than $60 million with about a third of the money being guaranteed.
“I never really played the game for the money, Mathieu said at his celebratory press conference Wednesday as he sat alongside team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim. “Although, it is good to be compensated, I will say that.”
Mathieu has arguably developed into the Cardinals’ best defensive player over the course of three seasons since being drafted in the third round out of LSU, and he brings a level of versatility to Arizona’s defense that not many players in the NFL can.
“More than anything, we knew that he was a dynamic football player,” explained Keim. “That’s what mattered. And the key was the versatility that he brings. His ability to play the post, to invert and play in the slot, play the nickel. There are very few people in the NFL like him. It was about making sure we were rewarding the player for everything he’s done and we still have expectations.
“We’re expecting huge things from this guy, and there was no doubt in our mind that he would continue to produce for us.”
Mathieu’s importance in a league where offenses are continuing to evolve can’t be overstated. Having players who can play in space, help in run support, tackle and cover are only going to become more valuable.
“Because of the type of player he is, he brings so much positional flexibility to us,” Keim continued. “Almost to the point where he can eliminate even a spot on your roster because he’s a guy who can do so many things. This was huge for us and I don’t think anyone is happier than this group here.”
Mathieu piled up 80 tackles, five interceptions, a forced fumble and 17 pass deflections in 14 games last season.
But only playing 14 games added to the backdrop of negotiations between the player and organization. For the second time in three years, Mathieu wasn’t able to finish out the season due to torn ACL. He has torn both his left and right ACLs.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to not be as hard on myself,” Mathieu said. “Things are going to happen, i.e., knee injuries, different things are going to come up, but you have just have to be true to yourself. You got to stay the course. I think I could have easily gotten off track with my first knee injury and my second one and just said ‘whatever.’ I stayed the course and I think that’s something that I’ve learned through the years.”
In the negotiation process, the organization wasn’t deterred by another significant injury. The Cardinals trust how much Mathieu loves football and who he is as a human being.
“You question whether certain guys will come back from certain injuries, and some of that is mentality and mindset,” said Keim. “You’d have to hit this kid over the head 100 times to get him to quit. That’s why he’s the Badger.”
In the end, Mathieu’s loyalty to the Cardinals and vice versa was too strong for anything to get in the way of him staying.
“Me and Steve (Keim), we got more than a player/GM type of relationship,” said Mathieu. “Although we never really discussed negotiations together privately, I always got the sense he wasn’t going to let me go. I always had that in the back of my mind, it always kept me encouraged.
“I just wanted a place to call home. I fell in love with Arizona, I honestly believe Arizona fell in love with me. It’s a great culture, I have great teammates, and I couldn’t imagine playing for anybody but Bruce Arians. It was something that had to get done, it was something I wanted to get done.”
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