There’s always an 11th-hour, out-of-the-blue, off-the-radar, market-shaking marquee player released at this time of year, and this year it’s the Honey Badger.
Tyrann Mathieu, then, is the anti-Kirk Cousins. The NFL world saw Cousins and Washington splitting up and the quarterback hitting the streets a year ago, if not longer. Mathieu's exit from Arizona was a possibility a month or so ago, but not until hours before the league year officially began Wednesday did it become a reality.
It’s hard to imagine him staying unemployed long. No one can really talk themselves into the notion that Mathieu can’t play anymore — not at 25, not after the start he had to his career, not after everything he did to earn the big contract extension from the Cardinals only 19 months ago, before the 2016 season. Not after his first full season after the second ACL tear of his career. The Cardinals' move was classic Cap Casualty 101.
Just as DeMarcus Ware became a magnet four years ago when the Cowboys suddenly let him go, Mathieu got teams’ attention immediately.
These are the five teams that should jump to the front of the line to get Mathieu. (Not including the Cardinals, who, well, should have made it work somehow, but that point is moot.)
New York Jets
They already have half a potentially great tandem in place with Jamal Adams coming off his rookie season. They also have Mathieu’s former coordinator in Arizona, Todd Bowles, as their head coach. He’s putting together the defense that he wants, now that many of the headaches (namely, Mo Wilkerson) are out. They’ve addressed their biggest need on offense by re-signing Luke McCown and adding Teddy Bridgewater. On a team that overachieved last season, Mathieu can help them achieve even more.
The issues the Steelers need to address in the wake of their ugly early playoff elimination are on that side of the ball. They’re shaking up their entire secondary based on the first moves they made in free agency. They never really replaced Troy Polamalu four years ago. They need to stay on the Patriots' heels; this would help enormously.
The Cowboys should be better next season, with theoretically less chaos than last season. A player in a key position with a recent injury history might not be ideal for them, but they need help in the secondary, particularly at safety. Mathieu at his best has the versatility to fill a lot of their needs. Whether they keep or unload Dez Bryant, they could have less to stress over on defense.
Green Bay Packers
Their secondary is a four-alarm dumpster fire, and they just traded Damarious Randall to the Browns. Their new front office is immediately on the hot seat to get a healthy Aaron Rodgers the help he needs and to take the obvious weight off his shoulders. This is another place where position labels are less important than getting players who can cover, run, hit and make opposing offenses less comfortable. Mathieu can only help.
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New Orleans Saints
Yes, admittedly, this could be an extreme overreaction to the Hail Mary by the Vikings that, it could be argued, kept the Saints out of the Super Bowl. (Quickly tuning out Eagles fans arguing violently.) But if the Saints did overreact, could you blame them? This is all keeping in mind that they really like Marcus Williams, then a rookie, who took most of the heat for the Stefon Diggs touchdown; and that they just signed former Panther Kurt Coleman. They also need to swing for the fences in what might be Drew Brees’ last season. Mathieu is a changed, mature man who can likely handle playing in his hometown. The Saints should give him, and themselves, that chance.