When the Cardinals first made noise about not giving any guaranteed money to safety Tyrann Mathieu, we argued that it was unfair to the player and to the process. As the 69th player taken in the draft, Mathieu is entitled to a contract that reflects that status, especially since the Cardinals took him knowing about the factors that caused him to slide to round three.
The Cardinals ultimately didn’t get their way; Mathieu’s contract contains significant guaranteed money as part of a $3.052 million deal. Unlike Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, however, who dug in and got his full slotted signing bonus in 2012 despite a desire by the team to spread things out, Mathieu’s contract tracks the approach utilized by the Jaguars with receiver Justin Blackmon, the No. 5 overall pick in 2012.
Entitled to a signing bonus north of $650,000 and south of $700,000, Mathieu receives only $265,000 up front. The rest of what would have been the signing bonus has been shifted to roster bonuses paid only if Mathieu is on the team’s 53-man roster, injured reserve, or PUP list for all 16 games in 2013 ($99,375), in 2014 ($102,031), and 2015 ($154,687). In 2016, Mathieu receives $101,407 if he’s on the team’s 90-man offseason roster on the fifth day of the league year.
Initially reported as money that will be paid to Mathieu only if he isn’t cut due to drug use, the reality is that Mathieu can be denied the payments while still being on the team. If he’s suspended in 2013, 2014, or 2015, the corresponding bonus evaporates. And if he’s cut for any reason — drugs or something else — the remaining signing bonus transformed to future roster bonus goes away.
On one hand, the approach remains unfair to the player and the process, because the Cardinals took Mathieu in that slot knowing the risks. Blackmon’s deal contained protections for the Jaguars only because he was arrested for DUI after being picked but before signing his contract. Mathieu has done nothing since being picked to suggest that extra measures are required.
On the other hand, perhaps Mathieu needs the structure and accountability as an added incentive to remain clean and out of trouble. It’s a series of carrots and sticks aimed at persuading Mathieu to stay out of trouble. If he does, he gets all of the money. If he doesn’t, the Cardinals move on, with a reduced financial loss.
Besides, Mathieu had limited options. If he didn’t like the deal, he could hold out for the full season and re-enter the draft in 2014. That would have put him out of football for at least two full years, with the real possibility that he’d be picked a lot lower next time around.