Tyrann Mathieu timeline: How the ‘Honey Badger’ became ‘The Landlord’ of Chiefs’ Super Bowl defense

first_imgA second consecutive productive and fully healthy season allowed Mathieu to become one of the top names in the free agency class of 2019. And his availability was welcome to the Chiefs, who were in the process of parting with oft-injured star safety Eric Berry.On March 12, news broke that Mathieu would sign a three-year, $42 million contract with $26.8 million guaranteed. His new average annual salary of $14 million would double what he made in 2018.Also of note: The Chiefs were coming off a run to the AFC Championship game and were gearing up for another playoff push.”Obviously you want to be compensated for what you believe you’re worth,” Mathieu said. “(But) I think deep down every player wants to play for a team that has a chance to win a championship. I tell people I’m very lucky — to get paid and play for a team that’s a contender.”But I knew in the back of my mind those things came with a great responsibility.”A new nicknameMathieu doesn’t mind when people still call him “Honey Badger.” On the football field, at least, he still benefits from the traits that earned him his nickname in college.”I’m at a good space in my life that it doesn’t really matter to me,” he told SN. Plus, his new fan base utilizes an updated epithet.To Kansas City, Mathieu is The Landlord — The Landlord of Chiefs Kingdom, that is.KINGDOM LANDLORDS pic.twitter.com/qsQpbfzufx— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) September 5, 2019What began as a throwaway social media post has blossomed into the theme of Mathieu’s first season in Kansas City. Asked whether Mathieu prefers “The Landlord” or “Honey Badger” as his nickname, he didn’t hesitate with his answer: (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/f1/86/tyrann-mathieu-lsu-012920-getty-ftrjpg_16cz4ur2q88te1v49cpcu3itd0.jpg?t=-229906561&w=500&quality=80 MIAMI — Tyrann Mathieu’s journey to Super Bowl 54 has been triumphant at times, but mostly bumpy. And about halfway through what might once have been considered an improbable NFL career — one that has reached its seventh season — this journey flirted with ​extinction.The Chiefs are the 27-year-old safety’s third NFL team in three years, a winding road he chose after his five-season run with the Cardinals ended abruptly in the spring of 2018. Mathieu is just happy to be navigating his career on his own terms: Early on, a series of injuries almost broke the man who’s now the vocal leader of Kansas City’s Super Bowl defense. In 2010, Mathieu, then a freshman, recorded 57 tackles (8.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two picks. As a sophomore, he added two more picks, 1.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (two returned for touchdowns). He was an exceptional punt returner, as well, averaging 15.6 yards per return and scoring a pair of touchdowns as LSU reached the BCS national championship game before falling to Alabama.The “Honey Badger” was unstoppable on the field and, unfortunately, off the field.”It felt like I got caught up in that ‘Honey Badger’ character,” Mathieu told SN. “It kind of began to consume me.”LSU dismissal and 2013 NFL DraftThe 2012 Tigers were less than a month away from their season-opener against North Texas when they kicked their best player off the team.Mathieu reportedly had failed multiple drug tests, and LSU cited a violation of team rules when the school dismissed the defensive back in August. He immediately turned to FCS McNeese State as a potential transfer option to play out his college eligibility. But realizing the difference between Baton Rouge, La., and Lake Charles, La., Mathieu said, was what prompted him to get back on track.A week after his dismissal, Mathieu checked into a Houston-area rehab center. He returned to LSU in September with hopes of also returning to the football team, but a late-October arrest on a marijuana possession charge ended any chances of his playing another game in Tiger Stadium.”Sitting in that jail cell, it clicked,” Mathieu told ESPN a couple months before the 2013 NFL Draft. “Looking at those people, just staring at me. ‘You don’t belong in here.’ They wanted to come through the jail cell and get me. I’m scared now. Because it’s reality now. I don’t ever want to feel like this again. I’m not going to feel like this again.” Mathieu trained with Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson as he prepared for the draft. Naturally, concerns about his drug history caused him to slip out of the first round. It’s no coincidence Mathieu eventually was selected by Peterson’s team in the third round. In hindsight, Mathieu said, Arizona was the perfect place for him given the high-character players with whom the Cardinals surrounded the rookie.”I think a lot of people underestimate the value of having good guys in the locker room,” Mathieu told SN. “I feel like Larry Fitzgerald really taught me how to be a pro. He showed me how to speak in front of media and carry myself. Guys like Pat Peterson who was like a brother to me almost. So I had all those guys in place around me to really be successful.”Free of the issues that bedeviled his college career, Mathieu as a rookie preferred no longer to be called “Honey Badger.””I just wanted people to get to know Tyrann,” he said. “I just kind of wanted to turn over a new leaf, reintroduce myself.”MORE: Patrick Mahomes can vindicate Big 12 quarterbacks with Super Bowl winEarly-career injuriesMathieu, playing both free safety and nickel corner through 13 weeks of his first season in Arizona, was a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year. Then he tore his left ACL and LCL in the third quarter of the Cardinals’ Week 14 win over the Rams. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.In 2014, Mathieu played only 13 games thanks to a thumb injury that required surgery.In Mathieu’s third season — a year in which he would earn his first career Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nods — he tore his right ACL and missed the last two games. He watched as the Cardinals made a run to the NFC title game before falling to the Panthers.In 2016, after Arizona signed Mathieu to a five-year contract extension, he played only 10 games due to a shoulder injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve yet again. “‘Landlord,’ just that whole little moniker, I think the people of Kansas City really embrace that, they get behind it, they’re into that,” he said. “‘The Landlord,’ it’s special because it’s the present moment of right now. It symbolizes what I’ve been able to do.”What he has been able to do is lead a championship-caliber defense, either serving as the last line of defense by governing the entire field or stuffing opponents’ rushing attacks with his perpetually physical style. His All-Pro regular season has him back in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.”I think the narrative would be different if we weren’t in this position,” Mathieu said as the Chiefs prepare to face the 49ers in the Super Bowl. “If I didn’t play as well as I did, our secondary didn’t play as well as it did.” (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/74/bd/tyrann-mathieu-combine-012920-getty-ftrjpg_1bkunzk5eklz1qk3bcob1bgcw.jpg?t=-229960089&w=500&quality=80 (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/85/a5/tyrann-mathieu-injury-012920-getty-ftrjpg_1hvai69vxrkgl1ub7kudw4b5ng.jpg?t=-229934625&w=500&quality=80 “I didn’t know if football was going to be for me,” Mathieu told Sporting News when asked about his 2016 shoulder injury, his fourth season-altering ailment in his first four years in the NFL. “I just felt like I kept getting hurt. Constant obstacles I had to get over.”MORE: Mathieu explains why he avoided big hit on Deshaun WatsonBy then, though, overcoming obstacles had already become the norm for the New Orleans native. Raised by his grandparents in the absence of his mother and father, Mathieu was adopted by his aunt and uncle when he was 5 upon the death of his grandfather. In college, after a 2011 sophomore season that earned him the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player, he was dismissed from the LSU football program following multiple failed drug tests.And in the NFL, just when it seemed he was overcoming the injuries that plagued his first few seasons, Mathieu was cut by the Cardinals just a couple years after he and the team agreed to a five-year, $62.5 million contract extension. He took a detour to Houston for one prove-it season with the Texans before landing in Kansas City.A full season of 16 starts, four interceptions, 75 tackles and a first-team All-Pro nod later, Mathieu has reached the peak of the football world. Below is an overview of the hurdles he cleared on his way to Super Bowl 54, and how he has changed along the way:LSU’s “Honey Badger”Mathieu, who earned the rare distinction of becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist as a defensive player, earned his “Honey Badger” nickname while at LSU. It was the perfect moniker for the player whose streak of blonde hair and persistent playing style resembled the look — and attitude — of the carnivorous mammal. (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/a7/ab/tyrann-mathieu-texans-012920-getty-ftrjpg_p8e72ejknc3e18q5niek0r59b.jpg?t=-229881137&w=500&quality=80 “I felt like that last injury was one of those injuries where I didn’t really know what to do,” Mathieu said. “I was really grateful with a conversation I had with (then-Cardinals safety) Tyvon Branch. Because I didn’t know if football was going to be for me. Two knee injuries — severe, severe knee injuries. A lot of people don’t recover from that, especially as a defensive back; we cut so much.”I think the conversation I had with him gave me a lot of hope going forward. He was a guy that played in the league 10 years, and he never really made it through a season healthy. But he always had a great spirit about him. I felt like that conversation he had with me, really gave me some hope that made me push through a lot of injuries.”Mathieu in 2017 finally played a complete, 16-game schedule. Ironically, it was after his first fully healthy NFL season that Arizona decided to cut him.End of Cardinals careerMathieu was just hours away from seeing $13.74 million in guarantees kicked into his contract on the first day of the league year in 2018 — the perfect time, the Cardinals deducted, to part ways with the safety.He had refused to take a pay cut, an understandable defiance considering Arizona had just extended him two years prior. Beyond the loss of the money that once was promised to him, Mathieu was forced to hit free agency as a player who had played just one healthy season in five years.”I’ve been fired from a team before,” Mathieu said, referencing his dismissal at LSU. “But I’ve never really been cut. To be cut, it was a reflective moment for me. It really humbled me.”Asked whether he maintains any hard feelings about the Cardinals and how his stint ended, Mathieu shook his head and smiled.”Obviously I would have liked for it to end better in Arizona; definitely wouldn’t have liked to get cut,” he said. “But I feel like those people were good for me. They gave me an opportunity to play in the NFL. They put me in a good locker room with some good dudes.”So I could never really be mad at Arizona. Definitely emotional when they cut me. But mad? Nah. Not mad.”MORE: SN experts predict outcome of Super Bowl 54One year with Texans, signing with ChiefsMathieu admitted he was nervous about his own injury history when he signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Texans in 2018. The NFL world calls this kind of contract a “prove-it deal,” a term commonly associated with players who have had trouble staying on the field. Many assumed he would earn more on the open market, but the dollar figures were not his priority.”I want to go somewhere where I can be completely immersed in football, and it’s not too much about anything but winning,” Mathieu told The MMQB at the time. “I want to be a part of winning culture, where you feel that all the time. That’s all I want.”It worked. Houston won the AFC South after going 4-12 the season prior, and Mathieu matched his career high with 89 total tackles. Considering he was set to become a free agent yet again, more important was the fact that Mathieu started and played though all 17 of the Texans’ games, including their wild-card playoff loss to the Colts.last_img

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