What we learned: Mathieu's deal shows Cards' stability

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Meeting Arizona legend and American patriot John McCain wasn't the best experience of Tyrann Mathieu's memorable Tuesday.

The senior United States Senator and former presidential nominee was on hand at Cardinals practice to congratulate Mathieu on a new five-year, $62.5 million contract.

Not yet 25 years old, Mathieu deserves credit for pulling off the dramatic transformation from pre-draft pariah to franchise cornerstone and precocious team leader.

Mathieu's turnaround is emblematic of a Cardinals organization widely viewed as a laughingstock as recently as a decade ago.

How many teams boasted the infrastructure, vision and veteran leadership to gamble on Mathieu, red-flagged as radioactive leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft? The Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks, Packers, Ravens, Bengals and Broncos?

Guided by the steady hands of team president Michael Bidwill, general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals have joined the ranks of the NFL's model franchises.

An apolitical maverick, Arians has famously raved about Mathieu as his "happiest draft choice." It's fair to wonder if the two redemption stories would have been united had Arians never landed in the desert.

Here's what else we learned from Tuesday's action in training camps around the league:

1. That stability in Arizona allowed the Cardinals to place their faith in Chandler Jones and promising second-year pass rusher Markus Golden, resisting the urge to reciprocate Dwight Freeney's interest in a return. Absent that opportunity, the seven-time Pro Bowler chose the Falcons over the Bengals on Tuesday, signing on ostensibly as a much-needed situational edge rusher and mentor to Vic Beasley.

2. Freeney wasn't the only veteran to find a new home. Former Packers wideout James Jones signed on to replace an injured Stevie Johnson as the favorite for the Chargers' third receiver job.

3. While Freeney and Jones embarked on the next stage of their respective careers, Trent Richardson is left to wonder if this is the end of the line. The Ravens pulled the cord on their offseason experiment, waiving the notoriously sluggish running back six weeks after his June knee scope.

It didn't help Richardson's cause that former Browns and Titans reject Terrance West has drawn praise as the "most explosive offensive player" early in Ravens camp.

4. The Bills, meanwhile, aren't willing to throw in the towel on their own frustrating tailback. After Monday's addition of Reggie Bush, coach Rex Ryan was adamant that the organization won't "give up" on the suspended Karlos Williams. "I can promise you that," Ryan added.

5. A seemingly promising day starting with news of H-back Ryan Hewitt's new three-year contract quickly turned sour for the Bengals. First-round cornerback William Jackson went down with a torn pectoral muscle followed by a hyperextended knee for tight end Tyler Kroft.

With Pro Bowl red-zone weapon Tyler Eifert already on the shelf, the Bengals have to hope Kroft's injury doesn't extend into the season. It will be interesting to see if Jackson's absence will bring Leon Hall back to Cincinnati.

6. Whether or not Colin Kaepernick is outplaying Blaine Gabbert in camp practices, it's the preseason games that will determine the 49ers' starting quarterback.

"There's no quarterback in the NFL or college that probably gets hit at practice," coach Chip Kelly explained. "Really the big determination for those guys will be the preseason games are going to be huge for those guys."

7. Don't be surprised if Bashaud Breeland gives Josh Norman a run for his money as the Redskins' most effective cornerback this season. A physical playmaker with impressive ball skills, Breeland has averaged an interception per practice session early in camp.

Lightning round


8. Arian Foster is picking up momentum as the likely Dolphins' starting running back, "rolling with the ones" while Jay Ajayi nurses a bone bruise in his knee.

9. Second-round rookie Michael Thomas has been a revelation early in camp, inspiring Brandin Cooks to predict that the Saints' trio of young wide receivers are going to do "big things" this season.

10. Jaelen Strong is coming on strong in the race for the starting job opposite DeAndre Hopkins.

11. Kam Chancellor and the Seahawks are starting to experience that old familiar Super Bowl feeling.

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