Tyrann Mathieu balks at Cardinals pay cut request, could be done in Arizona

After five seasons in Arizona, it's starting to look like Tyrann Mathieu might be playing for a new team in 2018, and we should know for sure by St. Patrick's Day. 

If the Cardinals defensive back is still on the team's roster by March 16, that will basically tie him to Arizona for the next two seasons -- $18.75 million of his salary over the next two years will become guaranteed on that date. 

Not only is Matheiu on the books for a $5.75 million base salary in 2018, but if he's still on the roster when the league year begins, he's also entitled to a $5 million roster bonus. As part of his contract, $8 million of his 2019 pay will also become guaranteed if he's still on the roster on the third day of the league year, which is why the Cardinals will be on the hook for the full $18.75 million if Mathieu is still around come March 16. 

That means the Cardinals have roughly one week to figure things out. Right now, things aren't looking good for Mathieu. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora said March 2 that he would be very surprised if Mathieu returned to Arizona after talking to multiple people at the NFL combine. 

If Mathieu is going to stay in Arizona, he's likely going to have to take a pay cut, but it doesn't sound like that's going to happen. The Honey Badger was asked about the possibility of taking a pay cut during an appearance on NFL Network on Thursday and he basically shot that idea down. 

"There's many ways you could restructure a contract instead of just taking money out of my pocket," Mathieu said. "Taking money out of my pocket, I don't like how that feels."

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown recently restructured his contract without actually taking a pay cut. Basically, the Steelers turned his base salary into bonus money, which allowed them to spread out part of his cap hit over the length of his contract. 

As for Mathieu, he seems to believe that if he had made the Pro Bowl this season, the Cardinals wouldn't be having this discussion with him. 

"I wouldn't say [the pay cut offer] was a spit in the face but ... I was offered to play in the Pro Bowl. So had I played in the Pro Bowl, would the narrative be different? Because I don't know many teams who cut Pro Bowl players. I think about all those things," Mathieu said.

The 25-year-old defensive back signed a five-year extension with the Cardinals in August 2016. However, it seems that Mathieu might now be expendable since the Cardinals are bringing in a new coaching staff led by former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. 

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was asked about Mathieu's future with the Cardinals at the combine and sounded non-committal. 

"It's what we are doing right now with the coaching staff, looking not only at Tyrann but every player, and see how they fit," Keim said. "How they fit what we are asking them to do schematically, and how they fit from a salary standpoint, all those things moving forward."

If Mathieu is released, he would instantly become one of the top defensive backs available in free agency. The Honey Badger has been productive when he's healthy. However, he does have a history with injuries. Not only has Mathieu torn both his left and right ACL over the past five years, but he also dealt with a shoulder injury in 2016 that caused him to miss six games. 

The upside for any team is that Mathieu did play in all 16 games last season, which marked the first time in his career that he made it through an entire season unscathed. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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