It seems like a perfect fit for the Giants. Their new defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, had a Top-10 defense in Arizona last season, and one of his best players on that defense was The Honey Badger - safety Tyrann Mathieu.
And now, suddenly, Mathieu is an unrestricted free agent … and the Giants think they have a need at safety. So …
Well, it won't be nearly as easy as that, even though a team source said the Giants do have some level of interest in Mathieu, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday. They will likely make a call to gauge his price, but the fear is he will be too expensive. And the Giants not only don't have the salary cap space at the moment to fit the kind of contract he's expected to be seeking, it's not clear they'd even be willing to go that high.
Still, it's an intriguing possibility now that the 25-year-old Mathieu was cut by the Cardinals after they couldn't reach an agreement on a restructured contract. If he had been on the roster by mid-afternoon Wednesday, he would've been guaranteed $18.75 million over the next two seasons. They decided that was too much even though Mathieu is still one of the most dynamic defensive backs in the league.
Mathieu was heading into just the second year of a five-year, $62.5 million contract extension. He was due a salary of $5.75 million in 2018.
The Giants don't have a ton of salary cap room remaining, especially after they gave left tackle Nate Solder a monster four-year, $62.5 million contract on Wednesday, and traded for linebacker Alec Ogletree. Some of the details on the deals for their new players aren't yet available, but it looks like they may be down to about $10 million, some of which they'll need to spend on draft picks.
More money can always be created, either by restructuring contracts or cutting players (like receivers Dwayne Harris and Brandon Marshall), so the cap situation likely wouldn't completely prevent the signing of Mathieu. But the Giants are also mindful of the fact that they have big-money contracts likely coming up in the near future to a couple of key players - safety Landon Collins and receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
So they don't want to go on a crazy spending spree.
There has also been some speculation that Mathieu could draw interest from the Jets, since before Bettcher took over the defense in Arizona, he was coached there by current Jets coach Todd Bowles. The Jets certainly have enough cap room to afford him, even after their big spending in the first hours of free agency (they are estimated to have about $40 million left). But the Jets also are very set at safety after drafting Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the first and second round last season. And after they just gave cornerback Trumaine Johnson a five-year, $72.5 million deal, it's hard to see them spending big money on a third safety, especially when they have many other needs.
However, Bettcher knows better than almost anyone what Mathieu could be for his rebuilding efforts with the Giants' defense. And remember, before the Giants released cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last week, a source said they were discussing the idea of moving him to safety. The Giants have an All-Pro there in Collins, but there is uncertainty next to him with Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams.
Bettcher could make an interesting pitch to Mathieu, who told TheMMQB.com that he's not just looking to cash in financially on his unexpected freedom.
"It's not all about money for me," he said. "I want to go somewhere where I can be completely immersed in football, and it's not too much about anything but winning. I want to be a part of winning culture, where you feel that all the time. That's all I want."