In the span of three years, Tyrann Mathieu has gone from NFL draft pariah to franchise cornerstone in Arizona.
The Cardinals have agreed to terms with the NFL's most versatile defensive back on a five-year, $62.5 million extension averaging more than $12 million annually, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via sources informed of the deal. The contract calls for $40 million in guarantees, Rapoport added. The Cardinals later confirmed the deal.
It's telling that the organization rewarded Mathieu as the game's highest-paid safety despite a December ACL tear that could leave him at less than peak form entering the 2016 season.
As we recently witnessed in the Amazon Prime video series All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals, Mathieu has succeeded beyond all reasonable expectations in transitioning from a troubled character risk in college to a precocious team leader beloved by his teammates and coaches in the desert.
Rapoport has reported since May that the Cardinals view the charismatic young star as the face of franchise, integral not just to their football plans but also to their community efforts.
A hybrid player in an increasingly multiple league, Mathieu was one of the most fun players to watch last year, making a serious run at Defensive Player of the Year honors before the ACL tear ended his season in Week 15.
Aligning at both safety positions, in the slot and even at outside linebacker, the artist formerly known as "Honey Badger" covers monstrous tight ends, ballhawks versus speedy receivers, plays stout run defense as a sure tackler and blitzes as well as any defensive back alive. By the middle of last season, he was drawing comparisons to future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu for his unique instincts and natural playmaking ability.
NFL Media analyst Brian Baldinger went so far as to anoint the 24-year-old "pound-for-pound the best player in the league."
It's amazing that the undersized former LSU standout's skill set has translated so well to the bigger, faster pro game.
"Looking at him coming out (of LSU), he's the same player now," defensive coordinator James Bettcher raved last December. "He's electric. When you watch, it's like there are three or four of him out there. He's all over the place.
"He's as good a player as you'll get, highly regarded by his teammates, a team guy who's great in the room. (GM Steve Keim) and Coach did a great of making that pick, and getting him. I'm glad we have him."
Three years into a unique career, it's easier to understand why coach Bruce Arians has touted Mathieu as his "happiest draft choice."