Tyrann Mathieu released: Steelers and four other teams that would be great fits

Tyrann Mathieu has consistently been one of the Cardinals' best defenders since arriving in the NFL in 2013, and the team rewarded him in August 2016 with a five-year, $62.5 million deal. But now it looks like he'll be playing for a new team in 2018.

The Cardinals have decided to release Mathieu before the start of the new league year, FOX Sports reports.

If the do-it-all defensive back was still on the roster by March 16, that would have tied him to the Cardinals for the next two seasons -- and $18.8 million of his salary over the next two years would have become guaranteed. Before releasing their talented defensive back, Cardinals asked Mathieu to take a pay cut.

Not surprisingly, Mathieu wasn't interested, though he wondered recently if the team would have broached the subject had he made the Pro Bowl.

"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," he said.

Mathieu, who won't be out of work long, suddenly becomes one of the most sought-after free agents. Demand for defensive backs who are solid in the passing game and stout against the run far outstrips supply. And with that in mind, here are five teams who would immediately upgrade their secondary by adding Mathieu.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers took Sean Davis in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft and he's started 25 games, including 16 last season. But 30-year-old Mike Mitchell, who wasn't completely healthy in 2017, enters the final year of a five-year deal and has a salary-cap hit of $8.1 million, according to Spotrac. Pittsburgh would like to pair Davis with a younger, more dynamic partner and Mathieu, who is 25, certainly fits the description.  He has struggled with injuries (he's torn ACL's in both knees and a shoulder injury limited him to 10 games in 2016) but when Mathieu is healthy, he can be a game-changer. Pittsburgh's need in the secondary -- particularly at safety -- is why we have them taking Stanford's Justin Reid in the first round of our latest mock draft.

2. Carolina Panthers

Kurt Coleman signed with the Saints last week. Mike Adams is 36.

Carolina spent the last several years building out a defense that is predicated on the front seven creating pressure and limiting the exposure of its secondary, but that was pretty much a vestige of the Dave Gettleman regime. Under new (old) general manager Marty Hurney, the Panthers might not have the personnel to keep it going; former first-rounder Star Lotulelei is leaving in free agency and 38-year-old Julius Peppers is possibly playing his last season. The secondary, meanwhile, needs to get better; safety Kurt Coleman signed with the Saints last week and his partner, Mike Adams is 36. Mathieu is an obvious option, though the Panthers will have competition for his services. 

3. New York Jets

The Jets had the 18th-ranked defense last season, and were 22nd against the pass, according to Football Outsiders.  And while they drafted safeties with their first two picks last season -- Jamal Adams sixth overall, Marcus Maye 39th overall. Adams ranked among the top-third of all safeties, via Pro Football Focus' grades but May was 80th out of 89. The Jets remain high on both their young players but you can never have too many good defensive backs. And Adams, who played at LSU like Mathieu, agrees.

4. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are in the midst of revamping a defense that was among the league's most tenacious for a five- or six-year stretch. Michael Bennett has already been traded to the Eagles, Richard Sherman is expected to be released, and safety Earl Thomas could be on the trading block. It's also unclear if Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril will be cleared to return to the field after suffering neck injuries. If Thomas does stay in Seattle, pairing him with a playmaker like Mathieu could help ease the transition into a post-Legion of Boom world. Mathieu won't come cheap, of course, and perhaps the Seahawks have finally concluded that spending some money on their offensive line -- and protecting Russell Wilson in the process -- is a more immediate need.

5. New England Patriots

The Eagles exposed the Patriots' two biggest flaws in Super Bowl LII: Lack of a consistent pass rush and a secondary in desperate need of playmakers. New England tried to trade for Michael Bennett but were late to the party, but you can expect them to restock the roster at defensive back in the coming weeks and months. Yes, the team is happy with Devon McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, but again (say it with us), you can never have too many playmakers in the secondary. Plus, Mathieu is versatile enough to play cornerback, safety and even inside linebacker in the subpackages. If he ends up in New England, Bill Belichick will undoubtedly find a way to maximize his talents.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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