Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu played the most snaps in the NFL in 2017.
Tyrann Mathieu carved out a remarkable story to get to the NFL, through what was a perfect marriage with the Arizona Cardinals.
That relationship ended Wednesday, when the safety – who had been due a $5 million roster bonus and another $13 million in guarantees on 2018 and 2019 salaries if he remained on the team – was released after he and the team couldn't come to an agreement on a new contract. Mathieu said last week the Cards had asked him to take a pay cut.
The decision ends speculation of Mathieu's future and makes him an unrestricted free agent.
"I've never made a secret that Tyrann has always had a special place in my heart and always will," General Manager Steve Keim said. "While we all understand this is a part of the business, that certainly doesn't make it any easier. We all wish Tyrann nothing but continued success in his career and beyond."
Before the move, Mathieu had spoken about the situation late last week.
"I think there are different ways you can go about restructuring you contract," Mathieu said during an
appearance on NFL Network. "Some guys like their money up front, some guys put it on the back end. The tough part is when someone asks you to take a pay cut. I don't think that makes sense for a lot of players."
Mathieu did say he tried not to get caught up in the speculation that his contract could become a sticking point in staying with the team.
The 2013 third-round pick had 11 interceptions and four sacks in 66 games, and he was named all-pro in 2015. But he also tore his left ACL in 2013 and then his right one on 2015, and after his latest tear he has yet to revert to his 2015 level.
Mathieu understood that, although late in the season he was confident his play was trending the right direction. He did play the most snaps in the NFL this season.
"The last seven or so weeks, I felt like I've been playing very consistent. Clean football," Mathieu said then. "The only thing I can look back on this season, I wouldn't really say it was a disappointment but it was surprising, I didn't make as many 'wild' plays as I normally would make, even though I had a clean season and technically I didn't give up any touchdowns. It was missing those wild plays, and that's what I'll take from this season."
The Cards, however, were dealing with a contract based on his excellent 2015 season, which Mathieu signed in training camp before the 2016 season. At the time, the structure made it clear March of 2018 would force a decision one way or the other depending on Mathieu's recovery from his injuries.
Before the final game of the year, Mathieu said he understood change can happen in the NFL.
"You've got to stay professional," he said.