Kansas City Chiefs superstar safety Tyrann Mathieu appears primed to reach free agency. According to multiple reports, general manager Brett Veach decided to apply the team’s franchise tag to left tackle Orlando Brown on Monday morning. The Chiefs entered the offseason $4 million above the salary cap, per Spotrac, and were always going to be forced to make some extremely difficult decisions in March and beyond.
The decision to retain Brown has a direct and significant impact on the game-changing Mathieu’s free agency eligibility, as the Chiefs are unlikely to afford both players given their financial difficulties. Brown was initially acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Baltimore Ravens last April that saw Veach send multiple draft picks the other way. The Chiefs were always likely to make re-signing Brown a priority given the draft capital they parted with in order to acquire his blindside protecting services.
Mathieu may be the odd man out, and his do-it-all skill set is expected to be in high demand. The 29-year-old former LSU standout remains in the prime of his career and is capable of lining up at essentially every defensive playmaking position. Since joining the Chiefs, Mathieu has showcased the abilities to play in single-high coverage, to come down into the box and impact the run game, and to line up in the nickel and cover opposing tight ends and slot receivers with terrific effectiveness.
Mathieu should land a sizable, multi-year contract in free agency that pays him north of $15 million annually. We’ve identified three potential suitors.
Baltimore’s ravaged secondary desperately requires an injection of playmaking talent this offseason. A franchise that typically fields haunting defenses, the Ravens were borderline unrecognizable on that side of the ball in 2021. The Ravens allowed a league-leading 278.9 passing yards per contest as a banged-up secondary failed to overcome injuries to cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Playing in a division alongside Joe Burrow and the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals means the Ravens must defend the pass better going forward. Change is on the horizon, as head coach John Harbaugh parted with veteran defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale and replaced him with ex-Michigan DC Mike Macdonald.
General manager Eric DeCosta could spend the offseason revamping and retooling his secondary as the Ravens attempt to bounce back from a disappointing playoff-missing campaign. Peters is a prime candidate to be released, and the likes of Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, and DeShon Elliott are unrestricted free agents. The Ravens possess just $9.7 million in available cap space and will have to release or restructure several contracts if they hope to aggressively attract players in free agency.
The Honey Badger is worth making sacrifices for. Mathieu is the type of ball-hawking, versatile safety this defense so desperately needs.
General manager Howie Roseman could afford to make a sizable splash for a defense that would greatly benefit from the services of a roaming, ball-hawking defender. Aging starting safeties Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod are set to become unrestricted free agents and the Eagles could use their impending freedom as a legitimate excuse to get better and younger at the position. Third safety Marcus Epps enjoyed a surprisingly effective season in 2021 after previously serving as a career backup, but Philadelphia should look beyond solving Harris’ and McLeod’s potential departures with in-house solutions. The Eagles can afford to dream big given their standing against the salary cap ($20.8 million in available space).
Philadelphia’s defense managed just 12 interceptions last season and there’s certainly room for improvement for a unit that allowed a meddling 22.6 points per contest. Playing in a division alongside Dak Prescott and the high-octane Dallas Cowboys means the Eagles must be capable of making life difficult in the passing game. The Washington Commanders and New York Giants are also expected to take steps forward offensively. The Eagles can not afford to get complacent defensively this offseason. Signing Mathieu would signal their bold intentions.
The Colts find themselves in a bit of a predicament this offseason. General manager Chris Ballard is reportedly exploring the quarterback market after Carson Wentz disappointed as a starter in 2021. The Colts possess nearly $37 million in available cap space and Ballard should enter next week’s free agency period with aggressive intentions after Indianapolis failed to qualify for the postseason. Ultimately, Ballard and the Colts may have a difficult time upgrading from Wentz via a veteran quarterback trade market that is longer on rumors than it is tangible possibilities, and Ballard’s best course of action may be to build a better, stronger overall team.
George Odum and Andrew Sendejo are free agents at the safety position and neither player was particularly effective last season. Khari Willis remains in place and is a starting-caliber defender, but he’ll likely have a new partner alongside him in 2022. Ballard could conceivably use his cap space to upgrade any number of positions across his roster, quarterback, wide receiver and EDGE rusher included. Mathieu is as solid as any defensive playmaker available, and the three-time Pro Bowler would do wonders to help the Colts field a more competitive unit in 2022 should their quarterbacking dreams fall flat.