In a new story for The Undefeated, former NFL cornerback Dominique Foxworth has written an in-depth feature about Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, calling him the NFL’s new “model defender.”
Mathieu — who back in 2013 was too small, too controversial, too hard to place — is the most important defensive player on the best team in football, the 4-1 favorites to win a second consecutive Super Bowl. He was the missing piece that turned the Chiefs’ defense into champions. But he didn’t set out to change the game. He just did the jobs that needed to be done. Now his work extends beyond the field of play. “I think I’m centered right now, more than any other time in my life,” Mathieu says. “It’s not about money, it’s not about chasing rings, it’s not about making people feel like I’m this special person.”
Foxworth points to other NFL players who are emulating Mathieu’s style — along with “baby badgers” who want to become NFL players just like him.
Eight years into Mathieu’s NFL career, he has also steered the way in defensive trends. Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick, two of the other safeties named to the AP’s 2019 All-Pro team, are disciples of his do-it-all style. This offseason, Seattle gave up two first-round picks to get Adams from New York. The Cardinals, two seasons after releasing Mathieu, made Budda Baker the highest-paid safety in the league because of his ability to impact the game from everywhere on the field. Logan Ryan played seven seasons and won two Super Bowls as a cornerback, but when the former Titan hit free agency, he and his agent marketed him as a versatile safety, “similar to Tyrann Mathieu.”
And based on this year’s combine interviews, we’re in for a new slew of baby badgers sprinting into the NFL. When 2020 defensive prospects were asked whom they play like, the name cited most was Mathieu. Even 6-foot-4, 238-pound superhuman linebacker Isaiah Simmons said, “The first name that comes to mind is Tyrann Mathieu.” Simmons was later drafted at No. 8 by GM Steve Keim of the Cardinals, the same GM who took a chance on Mathieu in 2013.
Foxworth documents the ups and downs of Mathieu’s career arc through the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans — and why the Chiefs decided to give him a three-year, $42 million deal.
By the time the 2019 free-agency period opened, the Chiefs — whose league-best offense had been saddled with the No. 31 total defense in the NFL — had zeroed in on Mathieu. They hoped to spend about $11 million per year, a substantial increase over his salary with the Texans. When his price rose to $14 million, some in the organization thought the team should pass. But in the end, the pro-Mathieu contingent won the day, and not because of Mathieu’s ability to cover anyone on the field. The Chiefs believed their locker room needed more than just an influx of talent — it needed a veteran presence. As one front-office executive said then, “He will make our guys believe.”
This is a great piece where you can lean a lot about one of the NFL’s most impactful players; it is well worth your time. Please take a moment to read the full article.