News broke on Tuesday morning that Tyrann Mathieu, the star defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, signed an extension with the team; The deal is reportedly a five-year extension worth $62.5M with $40M in total guarantees. Despite two ACL tears in the past several years, the Honey Badger has played a critical part towards the Cardinals success and locking him up to an extension was important for the franchise.
These negotiations were interesting because the Honey Badger plays a hybrid safety/corner role for Arizona. Technically, he’s listed as a safety on the roster, but per ESPN Stats & Info, Mathieu played a majority of his 2015 snaps at corner – approximately 62.3%. So the question that no doubt was at the center of negotiations: does the team pay him like a corner or a safety?
This question is significant because the corner and safety market have vastly different salary scales; it’s the same issue that plagued TE/WR(?) Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints not long ago, and luckily for Seattle, Graham lost that battle.
In the Badger’s new deal, he’ll earn approximately $12.5M per year, making him the highest paid safety by a good margin. However, if we’re evaluating his deal within the confines of the corner market, he’s only the 8th highest paid corner right next to Janoris Jenkins, who just signed a deal with the New York Giants this year. Paying the Badger somewhere in the middle of those two markets seemed like a reasonable solution.
Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas currently makes $10M annually. However, Earl has a four-year deal vs the Badger’s five-year pact, so Thomas will have a sooner opportunity to reach free agency and double dip in the NFL’s money pot. Thomas will only be turning 30 by the time he’s set to be a free agent again in 2019, and that’s only if the Seahawks even let him get that far. He could sign another extension in 2018 that easily surpasses any other deal signed by a safety, which for now kind of includes Mathieu and his $62.5 million payday. When looking at the greatest safeties of all-time, you’ll see that there’s a good chance Thomas could be playing for more than 10 more years; Brian Dawkins played till he was 38; Charles Woodson moved to safety and played until he was 39; Ronnie Lott until 35; Steve Atwater until 33; Troy Polamalu until 33; Ed Reed until he was 35.
Worst case scenario would probably still have Earl signing a four or five-year deal in two to three years, at which point with a rising salary cap and this argument that Honey Badger “is a safety” who makes $12.5 million per season that Thomas could get a deal worth more than $60 million. And that’s only looking at this one deal signed in 2016; Eric Berry could potentially go out next year and sign a contract that changes everything for safeties and how much they’re valued on the market in 2017 and beyond.
To top it all off, the two NFC West safeties have remained close it would seem, with Mathieu looking up to Thomas as a role model of sorts.
Earl Thomas I still wanna be you!! #Champion #AllPro3X— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) February 25, 2016
Even though I think @Earl_Thomas is a better pure safety than me, I'll take the nod. pic.twitter.com/VyBSEMJTBs— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) July 21, 2016
Earl Thomas jumped in on Twitter on Tuesday to congratulate the young star on his extension. He probably also thought something along the lines of “Hmmm, good day for safeties in general.”
Congrats to the lil bro @Mathieu_Era on getting that ! Well deserved!— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) August 2, 2016
Good for Tyrann. Good for Earl. Good for safeties.