With the release this past Thursday of veteran strong safety Kurt Coleman, the New Orleans Saints are now fully expected to upgrade that position over the course of the next several weeks; either with a player in April’s upcoming 2019 NFL Draft but more likely with one of the available veteran free agents that will be a part of next month’s 2019 NFL Free Agency class.
Coleman, who the Saints had signed last off-season to replace Kenny Vaccaro (now with the Tennessee Titans), was supposed to provide the Black and Gold’s secondary with an upgrade. Unfortunately for both the team and Coleman himself, he failed miserably to meet those expectations.
As evidence of that fact: Coleman was unable to supplant 3rd year safety Vonn Bell; who ended up having his best season yet and was able to maintain the starter’s role over Coleman; which then made the 30-year old expendable and saved the Saints $4 million by releasing him.
Nevertheless, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will still need another strong safety to provide depth and competition for Bell, or at the very least find a role player equally talented (or perhaps better) to play along side him in the team’s 3-safety sets that they often utilize in their base defensive scheme.
Considering that New Orleans doesn’t appear to have that player currently on their roster given the notable struggles last season of 2nd year free safety Marcus Williams, it’s likely a given that Saints brass will address the position either through Free Agency or the Draft.
However, Coleman’s release now clears the way for one of the most popular free agents who will be available in this year’s market among Saints fans in particular, to take over his spot in the Saints secondary: none other than “The Honey Badger” — a.k.a. New Orleans native, former St. Augustine High School star, former LSU All-American defensive back, and 6th-year NFL veteran Tyrann Mathieu.
After being named an All-American both in high school and in college (and the winner of the 2011 Chuck Bednarik Award, given every year to college football’s best defensive player) during his time in Baton Rouge, Mathieu eventually blossomed into an NFL superstar for the Arizona Cardinals after they drafted him in the 3rd Round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
However, he ended up tearing the ACL’s in both of his knees before ultimately battling back and making the Pro Bowl for Arizona in 2017. He was released during the last off-season and eventually ended up signing a one-year deal with the Houston Texans.
Mathieu, who grew up in the 7th Ward area of New Orleans, had a solid year with Houston; as the 26-year-old tallied a total of 82 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks, and 8 PBU’s (pass break-ups).
In his six-year career, the “Honey Badger” has appeared in 82 games (with 73 starts), has amassed 394 tackles (351 solo), 13 interceptions, 49 PBU’s, seven sacks, and 4 forced fumbles with 2 recoveries.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 27, 2018
Mathieu’s stellar showing with the Texans’ secondary proved he can still be a play-maker on the back end, as well as showing a knack for making impact plays at the line of scrimmage.
According to the folks over at Pro Football Focus, Mathieu was rated as the 4th-best run-defender in the entire NFL last year. Additionally, he finished 7th-best overall out of safeties in total run-stops.
But perhaps most importantly of all: Mathieu appears to be over his injury issues and he doesn’t turn 27 until May.
So if you’re team front office brass (i.e. General Manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton), targeting Mathieu seemingly becomes a “no-brainer” of a move for them to make — and therefore now makes a return home to NOLA for the ‘Honey Badger’ by signing a brand new contract with the Saints in Free Agency, a very distinct possibility.
“X’s and “O’s”- wise, Mathieu would provide the Saints secondary with a notable upgrade over Marcus Williams at the free safety spot.
He likes being placed or inserted into the final one-third of the defensive backfield, to patrol the back end of the field at free safety (although he can also defend the box at strong safety if needed), to roam around freely and make plays on the football.
A combination of Bell and Mathieu (with Williams as the 3rd safety) would give Payton and the Saints coaching staff one of the best safety duos in the league, and even better: collectively they’d comprise one of the youngest trio of safeties in the League; since all three DB’s would be age 27 or less.
That could be something that pays big dividends for the Saints franchise not only just next season in 2019, but for a few seasons into the future as well.
While some might consider the possibility of the Saints making this move an illogical one simply based on the notion of sentimentality and the thrill of seeing The Honey Badger return back home to his undeniable NOLA roots, it actually makes sense from a purely-football perspective.
Mathieu told the Texans website last month that he was open to the idea of remaining in Houston with the Texans, in 2019 and potentially beyond.
“Obviously, I’m just going to take some time, really reflect, but like I said last night, I really want to be here,” Mathieu said. “I love this team, love the locker room, love the coaching staff, so hopefully the business side of it will take care of itself. But I definitely want to be here.”
Mathieu played for $7 million last season, but is looking at a handful of massive offers to likely come his way; considering that he’s considered an elite-caliber defensive back who still has plenty of good years in front of him.
But with the Saints in “win-now” mode and desperately trying to win a Super Bowl before Drew Brees eventually retires, it’s a move Saints team brass clearly will at the very least, consider making.
Additionally, It’s also important to note that Mathieu’s comments about staying in Houston with the Texans came almost a whole month and a half before the Saints released Coleman on Thursday.
And of course: there’s also the well-known fact that Mathieu has stated in the past (last off-season) that his standard (or prerequisite) for signing with any NFL team as a free agent is that he wants to play for a winning team that also happens to be located in a warm weather climate.
And with the Saints looking like the #1 favorite to get to the Super Bowl next season and current temperatures in the NOLA region and surrounding area rising into the lower 80 degree mark in late February?