The salary cap is a cruel mistress sometimes. For the Cardinals, their inability to find a cheap quarterback and the decision to extend Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson has cost them 2015 All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.
While he didn’t hit those heights in 2017, Mathieu was still a very good player. His flexibility to play as a deep center field safety or slot corner, along with his ability to blitz, cover, and play the run make him an intriguing possibility for a lot of teams. Two ACL tears in five years is likely to worry some teams, but he is a natural playmaker and risk taker, and for some that is more than enough to bring him in. So where is Mathieu likely to play in 2018?
Outside of Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense lacks talent, nevermind high-end playmakers. While they have invested recent draft capital in the secondary, they lack a true free safety and a slot corner. Mathieu can play both.
With around $23 million in cap space the Raiders have the room to sign him to a short-term deal, and his mentality fits with the Raiders style as well. Whether Jon Gruden will push for him or not is a different matter. the league has moved on a long way from his day and the small slot corner is a lot more important now than it was last time he was coaching.
New York Jets
While the Jets seemingly found their safeties last year in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, head coach Todd Bowles perhaps knows Mathieu the best of any NFL head coach. The new base defense in the NFL has five defensive backs, so Mathieu’s inability to play the outside corner is not a barrier to playing time with the Jets.
New York have all the cap space in the world to add talent, and there is not that much left on the market you can spend money on. If the Jets feel his burst and explosion is still there, which is questionable, then he could be a very useful chess piece to help disguise coverages and blitzes.
The Texans have monsters up front and mice in the secondary. They lack the cap space to heavily invest, but if Mathieu is struggling for offers they could well throw their hat in the ring. The Texans badly need help on their inside coverage, and Mathieu can absolutely help with that. Even JJ Watt knows it.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have already added one former NFC West rival in Richard Sherman. Adding Mathieu would just pour salt on the Cardinals' wounds.
The 49ers were awful against slot receivers and in underneath coverage last year, and while Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are pretty good in the deep part of the field, Mathieu would allow far more coverage mix for the 49ers as well as give more time for the defensive line to get home by taking away the quicker throws.
It seems like a match made in heaven given that they still have $48 million in cap space to play with.
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