As of now, Tyrann Mathieu remains a free agent on the open market, but as the NFL Draft nears, teams may opt for a rookie over the veteran safety.
As surprising as the 2022 NFL offseason has been, the hits keep coming. One blow for Chiefs fans (aside from losing Tyreek Hill) was realizing that the team wouldn’t franchise tag veteran strong safety Tyrann Mathieu, letting him float into free agency.
Initially, it didn’t seem like Mathieu would be on the market for long. There were rumors that Mathieu would return home to play for the New Orleans Saints, which wouldn’t be surprising: proximity to home is a considerable factor, especially for veteran players. Both Davante Adams and Bobby Wagner recently drove this point home, as the two California natives signed with the (formerly Oakland) Raiders and the Los Angeles Rams respectively.
Yet nothing has yet materialized with the Saints, and Mathieu seemed to turn his attention north towards Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been rumored for weeks to have a vested interest in Mathieu, with reports that Mike Tomlin called him and the fact that both Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark wanted to draft him. The recent signing of Karl Joseph could mean Mathieu is sidelined, but it could also mean the Steelers are looking for capable insurance at every position before splurging on Mathieu.
With only about $13.5 million available in cap space, Mathieu could be the final piece to the Steelers secondary puzzle—but ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that “the concern from some teams I talk to is that maybe Mathieu has lost a step because he’s played nine years, a lot of mileage.”
With the NFL Draft coming up on April 28, the situation could drastically change for Mathieu if he remains unsigned. While it’s difficult to imagine the three-time First-Team All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion remaining off of an NFL roster, the more likely situation is that the NFL Draft would affect Mathieu’s monetary leverage and where he ends up.
How does the NFL Draft affect Tyrann Mathieu?
Although there’s no guarantee Mathieu will end up with the Steelers, this is the organization he’s been linked to the most as of late, which influences how the organization could draft in 2022.
FanSided’s Rucker Haringey anticipates that the Steelers could take a safety in the fourth round with Kerby Joseph, but Joseph has primarily played at free safety and there are doubts surrounding his “tackle strength in the box“, so if the Steelers did take him, it’s unlikely that he would transition to free safety.
However, safeties are historically undervalued in the NFL Draft, evidenced by the fact that the unanimous pick for the best player entering the draft, Kyle Hamilton, isn’t expected to be the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever team lands Hamilton won’t be signing Mathieu, but the undervalued position also means that teams needing help at safety may not need to spend their highest picks on this position. Joseph is still a Top 10 safety according to projections, but he’s expected to go in the fourth round.
The Steelers have the No. 20 overall pick, the No. 52 pick, and the No. 84 pick, which offers plenty of opportunity to draft a safety if the team needs one. Or, perhaps the Steelers are waiting to see how the draft shakes out to sign Mathieu.
The NFL Draft means that some teams are certain to fill their safety needs rather than signing Mathieu, which limits the pool of teams he can join. But since the Steelers seem to be the only team still in the running, the players they choose could have the greatest impact on how Mathieu and his future contract are affected.