Packers Rumors: Tyrann Mathieu a Fit in Green Bay?

Former Pro Bowl and All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suddenly finds himself a free agent. Just two years after signing him to a contract that made him the highest paid safety in football, the Arizona Cardinals have moved on from the former Heisman contender, choosing to absorb a $9.3 million cap hit rather than pay him the more than $14 million he was owed for this season.

Following his release, Mathieu told NFL reporter Albert Breer his next landing spot will be about more than his contract.

"It’s not all about money for me," said Mathieu. "I want to go somewhere where I can be completely immersed in football, and it’s not too much about anything but winning. I want to be a part of winning culture, where you feel that all the time. That’s all I want."

The football immersion comment has led many people to connect the dots between Mathieu and Green Bay. If full-time football is what he wants, it would be hard to beat Green Bay, given that there is almost nothing to do there other than football (with all due respect to Bay Beach and the Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo).

So is there a case to be made for Mathieu landing in Green Bay?

Versatility, but with questions

The Packers have holes all over their secondary. Currently, they’re without at least one starting safety, arguably both starting corners, and could use help at slot corner as well.

Mathieu has played as both a safety and slot corner at a high level since joining the Cardinals in 2013. He was named an All-Pro in the slot by Pro Football Focus as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams as a safety in 2015, posting monster numbers that season (starting with 17 pass breakups and five interceptions).

Certainly the Packers could use someone with Mathieu’s resume in their secondary, using him in one or more of those capacities as they attempt to shore up the back half of their defense.

But versatility cuts both ways. Being able to play multiple positions keeps Mathieu on the field a lot: in 2017 he played 1,261 snaps, the most of any player in a league. For comparison, only two players on the Packers topped 750 snaps on defense last season; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played 1,044 and Blake Martinez played 979. If an average defense is on the field for about 70 snaps a game, Mathieu played almost three full games more than Clinton-Dix last season.

That leads to a lot of wear and tear on Mathieu’s small (for the NFL) body. At 5-9 and 186 pounds, Mathieu absorbs a lot of punishment, especially with his borderline reckless playing style, and that punishment has shown up on the injury report. Just as a pro, he’s torn his ACL in both knees in addition to missing most of the 2016 season with a shoulder issue. He played all 16 games in 2017, the first time in his career he’d done so, but in his previous four seasons he missed 19 games and appeared on the injury report an additional five times.

Cost considerations

On top availability concerns, Mathieu is likely to be fairly pricey as well. Though his comments about playing where he can be immersed in football sound great, players tend to choose to sign where they can be immersed in money. That’s not a knock on Mathieu or his commitment to the game or whatever a self-proclaimed “old school” football analyst would tell you, that’s just reality, and it’s a smart business decision in a game where careers are far too short.

But it does make the Packers a bit of a tricky landing spot. New general manager Brian Gutekunst has managed the cap with a strong hand so far this offseason, but unless Mathieu is willing to play for far less than what he stood to make in Arizona, he’s going to have to be downright ruthless to make a serious run at a player of Mathieu’s caliber.

The former All-Pro seems all but assured to make at least $8.5 - $10 million a year, and if the Packers were concerned about retaining Morgan Burnett at the low end of that price range, it’s hard to imagine a contract richer than that for Mathieu.

However, the Packers have some wiggle room. Though it seems they’re set on keeping Randall Cobb on the books for 2018, the Packers could expunge Clay Matthews’ contract from their books with exactly zero penalty, freeing up more than $11 million in cap space in one fell swoop.

Though such a move would certainly weaken the pass rush, exchanging Matthews for Mathieu is an intriguing proposition. Given that the Packers are considered one of seven potential landing spots for Mathieu, it’s worth considering as free agency wears on.