New Arizona coach Steve Wilks is a product of the Carolina system, which doesn’t place a high monetary value on defensive backs. While Mathieu struggled to make plays early last season, he showed signs of returning to 2015 All-Pro form down the stretch.
Within minutes of his release, two NFL coaches had already reached out to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, expressing hope that their teams would pursue the safety-cornerback hybrid.
Examining potential landing spots:
1. New York Giants: Who was running Bruce Arians’ defense when Mathieu was in the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year discussion? That would be new Giants coordinator James Bettcher, who knows how to maximize Mathieu’s unique skill set.
Before dumping Dominique Rodgers-Cromartieearly this week, the Giants reportedly mulled the idea of converting him to safety alongside Pro Bowler Landon Collins. Here’s their chance to plug an ever better player into that role.
2. New York Jets: Similar to the Giants, this fit is about connections. Prior to Bettcher’s ascension, Jets coach Todd Bowles was Mathieu’s defensive boss in Arizona. While Bowles is set at safety with the promising second-year tandem of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, he could sell Mathieu on the idea of a hybrid role that combines nickel coverage with timely blitzes.
3. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders have a dire need at cornerback and are ready to move on from free-agent Reggie Nelson at free safety. With the ability to fill multiple holes in the defensive backfield, Mathieu would be a three-down godsend for new coach Jon Gruden.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: When the Bucs hired Brenston Buckner as defensive line coach last month, Mathieu made it clear that he views the former Cardinals assistant as a future coordinator. Buckner isn’t Mathieu’s only tie to Tampa. General manager Jason Licht was Arizona’s VP of player personnel when Mathieu was drafted in 2013.
5. New Orleans Saints:Saints wideout Michael Thomas has been openly recruiting Mathieu, a former LSU star and proud son of New Orleans. Unless the Honey Badger is willing to consider a hometown discount, though, the Saints might be reluctant to devote more spending to a secondary that has already added safety Kurt Coleman and cornerback Patrick Robinson.
6. Green Bay Packers: New general manager Brain Gutekunst is bringing a more aggressive approach to free agency, opening the pipeline to expensive veterans. With Damarious Randall traded to Cleveland and Morgan Burnett reaching the open market, coordinator Mike Pettine could use a multi-dimension weapon of Mathieu’s caliber to headline an overhauled secondary.
7. Houston Texans: The Texans struck out in their attempt to land former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Might they switch gears to Mathieu as a fallback option in their secondary? Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt is already doing his part to lure Mathieu to Houston.