NEW YORK – The excuses for Tyrann Mathieu come tumbling out so fast and with such constancy that it's hard to keep track of them.
The Twitter flier for a party Thursday night that promoted the notion of him being a first-round pick was a miscommunication, Mathieu tried to explain. Two missed pre-draft meetings with NFL teams occurred because Mathieu was sick, according to his agent.
Perhaps what Mathieu might understand some day after going in the third round of the NFL draft to the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night is that everything, right up to the moment he was selected, was a test of whether he gets it. Does he understand how to control his life well enough to make choices that will allow him to make the most of his big-play talent?
For many NFL executives, the answer from this week is pretty much the same as before.
"Arizona is the only place where this kid has a chance because [cornerback Patrick] Peterson is there and that's maybe the one guy [Mathieu] listens to," an NFC executive said Saturday morning, adding that fellow Arizona draft pick and former LSU teammate Kevin Minter also helps. "He keeps saying all the right things and I think he's trying, but it's like the guy who says he's going to jump into the pool and then he dips one toe at a time.
"Either you're in or out. We're tired of hearing stories about how he's sick or he's this or that."
For all the drama that went with Mathieu crying on television after being selected and then giving an emotional interview to ESPN afterward, execs weren't buying it.
To most, the question came down to this: Why does he keep drawing so much attention to himself? Why was he on television at all? Why was he tipping off the network to the possibility that San Francisco might take him with the No. 31 overall pick? Why was he on the cover of ESPN the Magazine? Why was he lending his name to some party promoters, even if it was some misunderstanding?
"Every time you turn around, it's something else," another NFC exec said. "There's a certain point where you just tune it all out."
Before the draft it was reported that Mathieu was a no-show for visits to Houston and Seattle for interviews. He unnerved other teams by talking about how he is still chewing tobacco to "take the edge off." While he has left behind some of the bad influences in his life, he still is hanging out with something of an entourage of people from a troubled past that includes him getting kicked off of LSU's football team last year.
Sure, Mathieu has been seeking guidance from a pastor in Baton Rouge and from his high school coach. Sure, he's not a malevolent kid. He's just smoking marijuana, not assaulting people. But he's also the kid who worked out, admitted he had a problem and seemed to think everything was fixed. It's as if Mathieu put a Band-Aid on an open gash and thought, "All better."
It's almost as if getting kicked off the team wasn't quite enough for Mathieu to get the concept of rejection. Hard lessons fade like a bad dye job when you have people like ESPN's Jon Gruden calling you the best cornerback in the draft (even though Arizona and most teams saw him as a safety if he's going to start) and when you're fully armed with the notion that rules don't apply (Mathieu admitted to failing at least 10 drug tests at LSU).
This is all very sad when you consider Mathieu's talent. He's quick and explosive, a guy who manages to find his way to the ball even when he's doing something unorthodox. The downside is that Mathieu is only slightly more disciplined on the field as he is off it.
In fact, the last time Mathieu played in an actual game, Alabama didn't try to avoid him. The Crimson Tide went after him, exploiting his gambling tendencies to create big plays.
The conclusion from many teams that have studied Mathieu is that he's not really suited to be a full-time cornerback. Arizona has already come to that conclusion, having announced immediately that he'll be moved to safety.
Where Mathieu actually plays is not really the point. It's whether he can muster the focus to take advantage of his ability. Based on the past week, the questions still linger.
NFL.com's coverage of Tyrann Mathieu's reaction to selection:
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