One of the easiest future transactions to guess for the K.C. Chiefs this offseason is the looming contract extension coming for star safety Tyrann Mathieu. Since signing with the Chiefs back in 2019, Mathieu has become the heart and soul of the team’s defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The team wants to lock him up long-term. Mathieu seems to like it in K.C. It also makes plenty of sense financially.
Heading into his third and final season with the team (under his current contract), Mathieu is scheduled for a massive cap hit at $19.7 million in 2021. That number must change on the books for this year, and it helps that the team wants to keep him for years to come. An extension will not only alleviate the current year’s cap number but it will maintain his important presence in the Chiefs’ secondary.
The only real mystery to the process is exactly how much money Mathieu will receive from the Chiefs. Mathieu’s initial deal set the market rate for top-tier safeties with an average annual cap hit of $14 million. It was a lot of money to give to Mathieu, but he’s more than lived up to the investment with his most dominant stretch of play yet in the NFL and the looks of a player who should dominate in years to come. It stands to reason that Mathieu could and even should make the same amount of money as he has to this point.
Will the K.C. Chiefs will get a slightly better deal from Tyrann Mathieu this time around?
But here’s the flip side to that (figurative and literal) coin. The safety position has stalled out financially. The top-end of the position is still paid south of $15 million annually, and good help is cheap to find compared to other positions. While it’s nothing like running back, the safety position is definitely devalued compared to other roster spots.
Even more, Mathieu is going be 29 this year and then in his thirties for every single other year of any forthcoming extension. Consider this, the Buffalo Bills just offered a two-year contract extension to 29-year-old Micah Hyde, a former Pro Bowl performer, to the tune of two years and $19.2 million. Hyde is not quite the performer that Mathieu is, but he’s an above average safety locked up to an extension in 2021 nearing the age of 30.
The highest-paid safeties in the game were all given their respective deals while in their mid-twenties. Landon Collins was given $84 million over 6 years at the age of 25 by the Washington Football Team. Budda Baker, who owns the highest average salary for an NFL safety, was rewarded by the Arizona Cardinals with a $14.75 million annual hit at the age of 24. Kevin Byard was 25 when he signed an extension with the Tennessee Titans for just over $70 million, while Eddie Jackson was the oldest among the top-tier salaries at 27. Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos, who is also 27, will join them soon.
When the Chiefs rewarded Mathieu with $42 million in 2019, he was just 26-years-old. That deal might have set the new financial high, but it was also a much safer bet for a player who clearly had so much football left to play. No one is expecting Mathieu to hang up his cleats anytime soon, but it’s also true that no player expects to hit the wall. It happens when it happens and it happens to everyone..
One look at the Las Vegas Raiders will provide evidence for the choice to overpay a safety late in his career. Lamarcus Joyner signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Raiders to become their big playmaker in the secondary after years with the L.A. Rams. Unfortunately the contract is now an albatross for the team and looks like one of Mike Mayock’s worst moves as a general manager. He was 29 years old in the first year of the contract.
Tyrann Mathieu is undoubtedly a top-tier talent for the Chiefs secondary and an indispensable player. No one should compare him to Micah Hyde or Lamarcus Joyner and say that’s an apples to apples call. Mathieu certainly deserves more than either of those players, and it’s possible the Chiefs even give Mathieu a bit of a raise so he can say he’s the NFL’s highest-paid safety once again. That said, there’s also some evidence for the other side, that maybe this deal could be cheaper than the last time around because it’s just hard to rely on anything for a veteran defender after the age of 30. That’s not a slight on Mathieu. It’s just what the gathered evidence around him has to add to the situation.