The 25-year-old Mathieu is due $18.75 million in guaranteed money if he’s on the Cardinals’ roster by the third day of the league year -- almost as much as the $21.25 million he was guaranteed when he signed his five-year extension in August 2016.
Here's how it breaks down: If Mathieu is on the Cardinals’ roster March 14, the first day of the NFL league year, he’ll have $5.75 million of his 2018 salary and $8 million of his 2019 salary fully guaranteed. And then, if Mathieu is on the roster two days later, he’ll receive a $5 million roster bonus.
However, general manager Steve Keim wouldn’t say if the Cardinals were operating as if Mathieu will be on the roster for the 2018 season.
“It's what we are doing right now with the coaching staff, looking not only at Tyrann but every player, and see how they fit,” Keim said. “How they fit what we are asking them to do schematically, and how they fit from a salary standpoint -- all those things moving forward. And there are a lot of moving parts. What we are potentially doing in free agency, how it affects the cap, and I feel we have a pretty good grasp on that.”
Mathieu’s extension could be worth as much as $62.5 million if he stays in Arizona to finish it. However, Mathieu has been slow to recover physically, mentally and emotionally from the ACL injury he suffered in December 2015 -- eight months before the Cardinals gave him the extension.
Mathieu finished the 2016 season on injured reserve. He played in all 16 games in 2017, showing a renewed confidence in the second half of the season. But Mathieu’s injury history since the Cardinals drafted him in 2013 has raised questions about whether Arizona should commit $18.75 million in guaranteed money to him through 2019.
In a sign that Mathieu’s health has improved, he played the most snaps in the NFL this past season. And with Tyvon Branch a free agent, Mathieu would give the Cardinals stability and experience in a defensive backfield also featuring Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker.
As the deadline for Mathieu’s guaranteed money inches closer, new coach Steve Wilks said he’s figuring how Mathieu fits into the Cardinals’ defense.
“I think the biggest thing is when you look at the skill set that he has, I think he can do so much,” Wilks said. “What I mean by that, he can cover, he can blitz -- when you look at the things we’ve done in the past in Carolina, he fits right into that mold.
“I like his skill set. Again, moving forward, [I’m] seeing how he fits into the 2018 Arizona Cardinals."