Arizona Cardinals: Why “Honey Badger” leaving makes sense

Arizona Cardinals’ defensive back Tyrann Mathieu hasn’t lived up to the exorbitant contract he was signed to back in 2016

The Arizona Cardinals need to correct an error while they still can. As long as it’s not already too late. Every NFL general manager makes mistakes, and Steve Keim appears to have made a pretty big one back in August of last year.

That was when safety Tyrann Mathieu’s “ship came in”, as the saying goes. It came in to the tune of a five-year, $62.5 million mega-deal. At the time, making the “Honey Badger” the league’s highest-paid safety.

The Mathieu signing seemed to be a good idea at the time it was consummated. Well, sort of. Even though the LSU product had an outstanding campaign in 2015, he had torn an ACL (again) towards the conclusion of it.

Mathieu terrorized Cards’ opponents in ’15. Despite missing the final two contests due to the knee injury, the “Badger’s” statistics were mind-boggling. 89 tackles, 17 passes defensed, five interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and a touchdown had him sniffing an MVP award.

Since that time, whatever had made Mathieu a special player seems to have left him. Perhaps the two knee surgeries he’s had since becoming a Cardinal have taken a toll. Many in history have recovered nicely from significant setbacks in their careers, but the 5’9″, 185 pounder doesn’t appear to be one of the fortunate ones.

Coincidentally (or not), Arizona drafted a Mathieu clone this past April. Management actually moved up in the second round to grab Budda Baker, a 5’10”, 195 pound dynamo out of the University of Washington. The rookie got his first career start this past Sunday versus the Houston Texans, contributing 13 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and two forced fumbles.

While it’s ludicrous to compare Baker to Mathieu this early in his career, at the same time it’s hard to ignore the similarities. The Cards will have a much better sense of what they have with the first-year pro by the end of ’17. Early returns on Baker are certainly favorable, however.

The more Baker progresses, the more expendable Mathieu becomes. Ultimately, it probably wouldn’t make much sense having both safeties on the field at the same time. Would the front office be able to move a contract as rich as Mathieu’s?

The answer to that question could quite possibly be no. General managers around the league may view Mathieu as an overpaid, undersized and underachieving fifth-year player who’s suffered two torn ACLs. But then again, it only takes one believer who feels that the 25-year old’s best years are still ahead of him.

Saying goodbye to one of the organization’s most-popular members would not be easy. But business comes first. Especially in the unsympathetic world of the National Football League.