On what he called "a proud day," Tyrann Mathieu added a rich chapter to his remarkable comeback story by signing a five-year, $62.5 million contract extension Wednesday.
The moment that made it all official for @Mathieu_Era.
— #CardsCamp (@AZCardinals) August 3, 2016
The deal makes him one of the highest-paid defensive backs in the game.
Although an initial report put Mathieu's guaranteed money at $40 million, a person close to the situation clarified that the player was guaranteed $21.25 million at signing, including a $15.5 million signing bonus. The rest of the money is "guaranteed" if he's on the team in later years of the deal. The person asked for anonymity because the details had not been officially released.
Still, it is a big reward for a do-everything All-Pro defender who was considered such a high risk by many when Arizona selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.
Mathieu: "I never really did it for the money ... I was fortunate that somebody did draft me, that somebody did believe in me."
— ABC15 Sports (@abc15sports) August 3, 2016
"All of us have challenges in our lives," Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said, "but I think the story of Tyrann Mathieu is a very special one. It's a story that's not over yet. Today is just a new chapter. When you look at some of the things about the game of football, you look at determination, you look at commitment, you look at the love for the game, and you look at Tyrann Mathieu."
Mathieu's aunt and uncle, Tyrone and Sheila Mathieu, who adopted him as a child, were on hand at the news conference that followed the contract signing. So was another uncle, Ricardo Mathieu. Also there were Mathieu's longtime girlfriend Sydni Russell and one of his two sons, a lively youngster introduced by Bidwill as "Little Ty or Little Savage."
— #CardsCamp (@AZCardinals) August 3, 2016
"I'd like to thank God. I've been truly blessed," Mathieu said in his opening remark. "He's given me a lot of grace. He's had some patience with me."
Mathieu thanked his aunt and uncle for helping him through a rough childhood in New Orleans.
"It's been a long road," Mathieu said. "It's been a long journey. I'd like to thank my adopted parents for putting me in private schools, even though I was a knucklehead growing up, they did everything they could to kind of shelter me. I'm truly grateful."
Mathieu was a standout player at LSU, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2011. But he was kicked off the team for marijuana use in 2012 and spent a night in jail after a police bust at his apartment. Mathieu spent an entire season out of football.
But after repeated interviews, the Cardinals took a chance on him.
"I'm here to tell you he's made me a better man and a better GM," general manager Steve Keim said, "because he's done a lot of things for me in opening up my mind and changing some of my philosophies. I grew up in the scouting life where you rarely gave people second chances and this guy changed my philosophy."
Mathieu, whose multitude of fans know him as the "Honey Badger," quickly developed into a standout player and evolved into a team leader. His LSU teammate for a season, Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, took Mathieu under his wing. Peterson, carrying his infant daughter, attended the news conference.
"I plan on being the best player on the field," Mathieu said, "and I plan on being like Patrick off the football field."
On the field, Mathieu thrived with his versatility and football acumen. He's listed as a safety but plays at least as much at cornerback. Keim said Mathieu has the best football instincts of any player he's seen.
The Cardinals signed Mathieu to the big contract even though he's undergone surgery on both knees after injuries in two of his three NFL seasons. He has yet to play a full season and currently is on the physically unable to perform list. But Keim said he had no doubt that Mathieu would have many healthy days on the field.
"You question whether certain guys will come back with certain injuries," Keim said, "and some of that is mentality and mindset. You'd have to hit this kid over the head a hundred times to get him to quit. That's why he's 'the Badger."'
Mathieu emphasized that this is not some happy ending to a story.
"This is a process for me. I don't think it's ever going to end," he said. "So for me it's all about staying on the straight and narrow, being the right kind of guy. I know everything else will kind of handle itself. This is a proud day for me."