The Buccaneers have some holes in their secondary. Meanwhile, out west, the Cardinals are facing an interesting decision with safety Tyrann Mathieu. If Arizona parts ways with him, Tampa Bay could be an interesting option for the soon-to-be 26-year-old.
It’s no secret that the Buccaneers struggled against the pass in 2017. They finished dead last against it, partly due to a severe lack of pass rush. But the pass rush wasn’t the only problem for Tampa Bay. The secondary was suspect throughout the year and didn’t exactly have much depth. We saw that as soon as Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves went down at different times during the season. Considering the struggles in the secondary and the need to upgrade the position group, general manager Jason Licht could look to a familiar face in free agency.
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Tyrann Mathieu is coming off a season in which he played the most snaps of anyone in the NFL. It was a huge step forward for the former LSU Tiger after injuries plagued his first few seasons. Mathieu is only going to be 26 years old when the 2018 season gets underway, meaning he should still have a lot left in the tank. He finished this season with 78 tackles (70 solo), a sack, five tackles for loss, seven passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. No Buccaneer safety managed to quite put up that kind of production in 2017. The thing is, why would the Cardinals part ways with this guy?
Well, the answer is money. According to azcentral.com, if Mathieu is on the Cardinals’ roster at the start of the new league year, he will make $19 million in 2018-19. $5.75 million of that sum is his salary, another $5 million is a roster bonus and then the rest is $8 million of his 2019 salary. The decision that will come into play, according to the article, is that Arizona may ask the safety to take a pay cut. If he doesn’t want to, the team very well might feel like releasing him is a possibility. That would put him on the market and yes, Tampa Bay is definitely in the market for a safety of his caliber.
The interesting twist to this potential landing spot for Mathieu is that Licht played a part in drafting him in 2013. He was Arizona’s vice president of player personnel at the time. With questions surrounding “The Honey Badger” who was kicked off the LSU team due to failed drug tests, it was somewhat of a risk to take him. However, the Cardinals went ahead and drafted him in the third round. They have been reaping the benefits ever since, with his injuries aside. Mathieu’s best year came in 2015, though the season ended with a heartbreaking knee injury. In fourteen games, he racked up 89 tackles (80 solo), a sack, a forced fumble and five interceptions. Despite his season getting cut short, he was a Pro Bowl selection and a first team All-Pro.
Is the connection with Licht enough to lure Mathieu to Tampa if he does get released? That’s far from a certainty, but the Bucs would have to give it a shot. There’s virtually no chance that he would get the same kind of money in free agency that the Cardinals owe him. If a team wants to overpay, Tampa Bay shouldn’t go too far. But the point is, the Bucs would have to at least make an effort.
Fitting him into the secondary with an emerging stud like Justin Evans would have Bucs fans feeling giddy, no? That would push Chris Conte down the depth chart, but after a pretty nice 2017 season, having Conte around as depth would be a very good thing. Maybe there’s a risk adding a sixth-year safety with some injury history. But for a Buccaneer defense that was at the bottom of the league in 2017, the risk is worth it.
There should be no reason for the Bucs not to take a shot at The Honey Badger in free agency, should he end up there. The bigger question would be whether or not he wants to play in Tampa. Sure, the team looks like it has a lot of potential. But would he see that and want to be a guy to come fill a hole on the defense? Or would he want to go to a proven contender? That’s a question that the Bucs may struggle with no matter who their targets are this offseason.
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What do you think, Bucs fans? Should Licht target Mathieu if Arizona makes him a free agent?