The Texans want Mathieu to focus on playing safety, Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle reports. "We told [Mathieu] that we really do value - as you know - we value versatility, but we also understand that a guy needs to have basically one home," said Texans coach Bill O'Brien. "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.
Mathieu played a steady mix of safety and slot corner during his time in Arizona, also getting a few looks as an outside corner and nickel linebacker. He led the NFL in both defensive snaps (1,056) and total snaps (1,263) last season, but hasn't quite looked like the best version of himself since suffering the second ACL tear of his career late in the 2015 campaign. With starting free safety Andre Hal returning and slot corner Aaron Colvin also signed this offseason, Mathieu figures to open training camp as the starter at strong safety, a favorable spot for piling up tackles.
Mathieu was released by the Cardinals on Wednesday after failing to come to terms on a salary reduction. The 25-year-old battled injuries through much of his five seasons with Arizona, but was able to start all 16 games in 2017 and actually led the league with 1,263 defensive snaps. Mathieu joins a Texans defense that was without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus in 2017 and will get to test free agency again following next season.
The Cardinals released Mathieu on Wednesday, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reports.
Mathieu had a star-crossed five seasons in Arizona, alternating dynamic campaigns with ones interrupted by significant injuries, particularly a pair of torn ACLs. His performance earned the safety a five-year, $62.5 million contract in August 2016, and while he may have upheld his end of the bargain in terms of production -- as evidenced by his 78 tackles on a league-leading 1,263 snaps last season -- game-changing plays had all but vanished from his repertoire. Hence, his release came after talks of salary reduction clearly went nowhere. Mathieu will enter free agency on the same day that the new league year kicks off and looks like one of the top defensive backs on the open market.
According to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com, Mathieu has significant guaranteed money built into his contract. Notably, if the defensive back remains on the Cardinals roster at the end of next week, he's owed $18.75 million, including $8 million of his salary for the 2019 season. The preceding was likely the primary reason general manager Steve Keim and new head coach Steve Wilks wouldn't commit to Mathieu for the upcoming campaign and beyond at the combine last Wednesday. Assuming the two sides are unable to come to a resolution, whether it be via a reduction in pay, restructure or trade, Mathieu could be a cap casualty before the new league year begins Wednesday.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and head coach Steve Wilks weren't willing to give any assurances that Mathieu would remain with the team in 2018 when broached about the topic Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic reports. "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."
Mathieu was able to shake off the injury concerns that have followed him since entering the NFL in 2013 and suited up for all 16 games for the first time in his career last season. Despite the improved health, Mathieu saw his production take a hit, finishing with 78 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions on the season, a far cry from the 89, 17 and five he tallied in those respective categories during his breakout 2015 campaign. With two quality safeties in Budda Baker and Antoine Bethea (pectoral) in the fold through at least the 2019 season, the Cardinals might not lose much on the defensive side by releasing Mathieu and using the available funds to address areas of need elsewhere. Expect Mathieu's status with the Cardinals to gain clarity by March 14, when he'll be guaranteed $18.75 million if he remains on the roster.
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