Bill O'Brien reveals how Texans plan on deploying the versatile Tyrann Mathieu

When the Arizona Cardinals cut Tyrann Mathieu in March, they set free one of the game's most versatile defensive backs. In Arizona, Mathieu was much more than just a safety. He moved all over the field. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to hear that the Texans, who rushed to sign Mathieu to a one-year deal, want Mathieu to lock into one specific role in Houston.

"We talked about that when we were speaking to him during the process," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said, per the Houston Chronicle. "We told him that we really do value -- as you know -- we value versatility, but we also understand that a guy needs to have basically one home. He needs to understand and master that one home, which is safety for Tyrann. Then, in different packages that are played less of the time, maybe he does something else.

"When you watch him in these sessions that we've had, you can see a guy that's very instinctive, that moves well and that can probably do a few different things for us, but we're going to start him at safety and let him hone in on that. Then eventually we will do other things in other packages with him."

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Interestingly, Mathieu said that the Texans' desire to largely keep him at one position played a role in his decision to sign with them.

"I think this is why I chose to play for the Texans," Mathieu said. "I had a lot on my plate. I couldn't really focus on really one position. I think a lot of times coaches may ask me to strictly rely on my instincts, but am I really getting better at football? I think those were questions I needed to answer and I think (Texans defensive coordinator) Romeo (Crennel) answered those questions for me."

Mathieu also said, "I'm more excited about him just helping me commit to playing safety right now. Those were things that I didn't really do in the past, necessarily. I played four or five different positions, I had four or five different responsibilities and I never could really perfect one craft. I think, right now, for me it's just committing to safety, playing safety the best way. From there, like I said, the game plan kind of dictates, too, where I'll line up."

Mathieu, a third-round pick out of LSU in 2013, has racked up 11 interceptions, 41 passes defended, four forced fumbles, four sacks, and 281 solo tackles in his career. In 2015, he was named First Team All-Pro after an incredible five-interception, 17-passes-defended, 80-tackle season, which is what made the Cardinals give him a mega five-year extension before the 2016 season.

It's not that Mathieu turned into a bad player over the past two seasons, but he hasn't been as a good as he was during that 2015 season. And the Cardinals had to decide this offseason if he was worth the $18.75 million over the next two years that would've been guaranteed on March 16. They wound up cutting him. By signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Texans, he reportedly took less money to move to Houston than to stay with the Cardinals for $8 million. 

Perhaps Mathieu liked Houston's plan for him more than the Cardinals' plan. If Mathieu thought that the Cardinals' desire to move him all over the place was hurting his value as a football player, maybe he thought that playing on a cheaper one-year deal with a team that would let him stick at one position would be a better long-term move. If Mathieu plays well, he'll be hitting free agency again at the age of 26. From the Texans' perspective, they got an absolute steal in Mathieu, even if it ends up being a one-year rental.

Seemingly overnight, the AFC South went from the league's worst division to one of the AFC's best with the rise of the Jaguars' defense and the Titans' emergence as a playoff-caliber tam. And then there are the Andrew Luck-less Colts and the Texans, a team that went 4-12 and couldn't even enjoy the fourth-overall pick because they traded it to the Browns, and is banking on the successful return from several of their injured star players in order to rebound in 2018.

If you're buying the Texans as a sleeper playoff team in 2018, you're probably buying them mainly because of Deshaun Watson's seven-game breakout (before he tore his ACL) and because of the optimism surrounding J.J. Watt's recovery from a broken leg. The Mathieu signing is just an added bonus. 

If you're not buying them, you're probably (and rightly) still waiting to see more of Watson before you rush to crown him and you're also probably (and rightly) worried about the effects of the past few injury-riddled seasons on a now 29-year-old Watt.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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