While still playing in a game he should’ve been taken out of, Tyrann Mathieu’s Arizona Cardinals career got derailed by injury
It should’ve been a night of complete happiness for the Arizona Cardinals. The date was December 20th, 2015, and head coach Bruce Arians’ squad had just thrashed the Philadelphia Eagles. Unfortunately, their NFC West-clinching road victory came with a steep price.
With just 2:37 remaining in the contest, and the Cards holding a comfortable 23 point lead, starting safety Tyrann Mathieu injured his knee. The star defensive back jumped into the air to intercept a Sam Bradford pass, then proceeded to land awkwardly on his right leg. The “Honey Badger” was able to walk gingerly to the locker room, but was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Amid some justified hooting and hollering by Arizona players after the win, was some grave concern shown by veterans in the know. The look on quarterback Carson Palmer’s face when Mathieu was being led off of the field was one of both worry and disgust. The signal-caller was aware of how much the defender meant to the team, and the ramifications of losing such an individual.
The question for Arians after the game was an obvious one. Why in the world was Mathieu still on the field during a matchup that was all but decided? The Eagles being able to come back from a 23-point deficit with under three minutes to go was almost an impossibility.
Mathieu hasn’t been the same since. The 5’9″, 185 pounder had rushed back from the knee surgery (his second with the Cardinals) in order to be ready for the 2016 opener. Mathieu played in just 10 games that season due to an injured shoulder, and appeared to be just a shadow of his former self.
The “Badger” was back to full health last year, as evidenced by his leading the NFL in defensive snaps. Mathieu tallied 78 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and a sack. Those numbers looked good on paper, but many observers would agree that there was something less-dynamic about the 25-year old’s play.
Perhaps the two knee operations have zapped the defensive dynamo’s flair. Similarly to the way that kryptonite took the strength away from Superman. Whether Mathieu can regain what once made him an MVP-caliber performer is a question that Cards’ general manager Steve Keim wishes that he had the answer to.
Keim took a huge leap of faith with Mathieu during the offseason that followed the debacle in Philly. Arizona awarded their rehabbing member a five-year, $62.5 million extension during the summer of 2016. The deal included an outlandish $40 million in guarantees.
The contract has created an enormous dilemma for the Cardinals’ front office. If Mathieu is still a part of the roster on the third day of the upcoming league year, he’ll have $18.75 million in guaranteed coin coming his way. A figure that the organization feels is way too high for the Louisiana State University product.
Speculation concerning the subject is running wild. Keim would love to be able to trade Mathieu and rid the club of that horrendous contract. If management is unable to do that, a flat-out release could be imminent.
It’s strange how one play in an athlete’s career could have such an altering effect. If only Arians would’ve used some common sense, and had pulled Mathieu from the game on that chilly evening in South Philly. Perhaps the Cards would’ve had one less problem to deal with this offseason if that simple decision had been made.