Earl Thomas signed with the Baltimore Ravens on a massive four-year deal for $55 million later on in free agency, which was widely considered a great move by the Ravens.
Fast forward a couple days, and news came out during Thomas’ introductory interview with that Baltimore Ravens that he had been expecting to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs on a one or two-year deal before the Ravens came in with the huge offer.
This led to conversations among Chiefs fans about when this deal was in place, and if Kansas City saw Thomas instead of Tyrann Mathieu or in addition to Tyrann Mathieu.
Then there was Peter King’s article, “Football Morning in America,” Monday morning, which had this nugget:
Earl Thomas was prepared, with regrets, to accept a one-year guaranteed contract worth $12 million, with $1 million in likely-to-be-earned incentives, with an undisclosed team Wednesday morning. That team, I am told, was sure it had Thomas, whose market had never materialized the way safety markets developed for Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Adrian Amos. Then the Ravens swooped in, knowing they had to overpay to break up the other deal. “The Ravens were never in the picture,” Thomas told me Thursday. “I was shocked. I was blessed.” In the span of two hours and 10 minutes, the Ravens and Thomas’ agents worked out a four-year, $55-million deal. Moral of the story: It only takes one. And it doesn’t take long.
Although it is not confirmed that the Kansas City Chiefs were that “undisclosed team” listed at the top, coming on the heels of Thomas claiming he thought he was going to be a Chief, it’s a short jump to make.
The Chiefs were apparently hours away from having both Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas.
As we collectively lick our wounds and wonder why Earl Thomas-lite (Tre Boston) hasn’t been signed, something else hit me after taking in all this information as it pertains to actual players on the Chiefs’ roster—specifically Tyrann Mathieu.
Once you start piecing things together, you get a glimpse into how the Chiefs plan on using Mathieu this upcoming season.
Also; gonna read into it a tiny bit...— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 18, 2019
Tyrann Mathieu and ET playing together puts Honey Badger in the box most likely. Combine that with his quotes of “of getting back to hunting” and his best film through his career is closer to the LoS.
Mathieu at “box/strong” S seems likely https://t.co/Rv4WtaROqM
The expected use of Tyrann Mathieu
Roster (almost) moves
First and foremost, we have no clue what Steve Spagnuolo has in store for this defense.
Craig and I can take big, long deep dives into his most recent defenses but Spagnuolo himself has said he had an opportunity to reevaluate himself a defensive mind during his year off. That in consideration, we can say most of the defenses Spagnuolo has had feature a clear-cut strong safety and free safety (not that their duties and roles won’t overlap but there was a preference for a distinct player to in each role).
With the way the Chiefs have talked about Mathieu’s versatility and lack of weaknesses, I would expect him to see reps at both positions. However, based on even just the Thomas move above, his primary position may not be at free safety, as some speculated early on.
If the Chiefs were planning on signing Earl Thomas after they had already signed/agreed to sign Mathieu, the plan most certainly wouldn’t be to drop Earl Thomas into the box often.
The Chiefs were willing to spend $12 million to bring in Earl Thomas to play as the free safety, not a move you’d make if you thought you had your free safety already on the roster.
But that is just reading into a roster move that never happened. It could have been that the talent of Thomas was too much to pass up and there wasn’t a clear cut plan of positions.
Comments from the “Honey Badger” himself
During Mathieu introductory press conference, we got this exhilarating quote.
While this doesn’t specify, in the slightest, where he will be playing, it does tell you that Mathieu is excited for his usage in this scheme and that he would classify it as a “hunting” position. Thinking about football and how the game is played, playing near the line of scrimmage (LoS) and football while being asked to chase it down sounds much more “hunter” to me than patrolling the back-end preventing big plays.
This isn’t to say big plays can’t be made while playing deep and as a free safety, but the concept of hunting the ball and or player seems much more synonymous with playing in the box or near the LoS.
Furthermore, the mention of “what I do best” is interesting. Mathieu is very active on Twitter with fans and sports writers and is an open book about his usage and play in Houston. He has never been overly negative about Houston, but there is a tone of resentment at to how he was asked to play there. Coincidentally enough, that was his year with more “free safety” snaps than any other in his career.
Film and past performance
Craig has done a fantastic film review of Tyrann Mathieu highlighting the countless number of ways he can help the defense. Simply put, Mathieu can play everywhere but his ability to play through traffic in shallow zones, rob the middle of the field, affect the run game and play man coverage is all easier to showcase when playing in the box near the LoS.
This is one of my favorite plays:
Once again, working from the box, Mathieu robs the short zone initially, ID's the play action, and attacks the screen before the linemen can even fully disengage. He meets the running back at the catch point with force and dislodges the ball with a tone-setting hit. pic.twitter.com/oZlzaL2HO3— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) March 12, 2019
I want a guy who can process the game this quickly while close to the LoS doing just that—playing near the LoS.
The bottom line
It’s a fairly sure thing that Tyrann Mathieu won’t be utilized in one specific role based upon how everyone in the organization has talked about him up to this point.
It’s also an easy dot to connect that there were plans to play him down in the box had a few more free agency moves fell into place.
Thinking about those happenings, past performance numbers and quotes that I am certainly reading far too into given this time of year, if I were to pick one position for Mathieu to play most of his snaps at, it would be as a box or strong safety.
Mathieu’s ability to see the hole field from up close, athleticism to cover sideline to sideline, and playmaking ability when near the LoS is too much to ignore. Mathieu is an aggressive player who sounds like he wants to play that way moving forward, and the Chiefs should ultimately allow him to do so.
AP, where do you want Mathieu playing and who do you want playing next to him?