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Cardinals take cautious approach to Tyrann Mathieu’s contract

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The Honey Badger has signed his first NFL contract (Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals third-round safety Tyrann Mathieu has signed his first NFL contract, the team announced on Thursday.

Because Mathieu had failed multiple drug tests at LSU, where the "Honey Badger" was booted off the team before the 2012 season, the terms of Mathieu's contract were the subject of a mini-controversy following his selection in the 2013 NFL draft. Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that the Cardinals could receive permission to test Mathieu for drugs on a weekly basis and that the deal might not contain any guaranteed money.

Mathieu's agent, Patrick Lawlor, quickly denied that his client would accept a deal that didn't include guaranteed money. As "Shutdown Corner" noted at the time, since the 2006 season, no rookie had signed a contract that contained zero guaranteed money. In that post, we suggested that the Cardinals and Lawlor could model Mathieu's contract after the rookie deal of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who had some failed drug tests while at Florida and fell to the Patriots in the fourth-round of the 2010 draft.

Hernandez was scheduled to receive a four-year, $2.29 million contract that included a guaranteed signing bonus of around $500,000. Instead, he received a $200,000 signing bonus, but his deal had a maximum value of $2.69 million as Hernandez could earn an additional $388,000 in weekly roster bonuses (for being on the 53-man roster, injured reserve or physically unable to perform list, i.e., not suspended for violating the substance abuse or personal conduct policies) during all four seasons of the contract, essentially exceeding the guaranteed amount dedicated to his draft slot.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, it appears as though the Cardinals and Mathieu took the same approach New England took with Hernandez in 2010.

As the seventh pick in Round 3 of the 2013 draft, Mathieu's rookie contract called for a signing bonus of $662,500. Breer reports that Mathieu received a $265,000 signing bonus and can earn an additional $397,500 in partially guaranteed roster bonuses ($132,500 in 2014, 2015 and 2016) over the final three seasons of the deal. The deal is worth $3.052 million and, if Mathieu stays out of trouble, likely on a weekly basis, he will receive $662,500 in guaranteed money in this contract.

That the Cardinals took the Hernandez approach with Mathieu should not come as a surprise. Arizona's vice president of player personnel Jason Licht was the director of pro personnel with the Patriots when Hernandez was drafted. Also, the Cardinals' director of football administration is Mike Disner and their football administration coordinator is Matt Caracciolo, both of whom previously worked for the Patriots.

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