In an NFL Network screenshot, LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu watches as it is announced the Cardinals have taken him with their third-round pick Friday.
Tyrann Mathieu couldn't stop crying.
The former LSU star safety was on his conference call with reporters minutes after the Cardinals made him their third-round pick Friday night, and after his struggles with drugs and losing the entire past year of football because of his marijuana issues, the emotions got away from him.
"The whole time I'm telling myself I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry, I've been playing football my whole life," Mathieu said through his tears. "Just to see this all come back around, man, I know I'm on the right track."
Patrick Peterson didn't cry, but he did call Friday "one of the happiest days of my life" that the Cardinals were willing to draft his one-time teammate and troubled friend to again be his teammate. Peterson mentored Mathieu throughout the pre-draft process – having Mathieu stay with him in Arizona for a chunk of that time – and insisted Mathieu was beyond his problems now that he is entering the NFL.
"I am more than confident he will be OK," Peterson said. "He knows he made mistakes but football is his life. Now he has an
opportunity to do it again. I can promise you he would never let the opportunity slip away from him again."
There is no questioning Mathieu's football talent, which helped earned him his "Honey Badger" nickname and thrust him into the Heisman Trophy discussion in 2011. But Louisiana State kicked him off the team last August for "violation of team rules." Mathieu eventually went to rehab for his drug problem and has spent the offseason rehabbing his reputation as well as training for the NFL.
He has been open about his addiction and his past failures. He is also insistent he has changed.
"They want to be able to trust me," Mathieu said. "They want to be able to know I've crossed that bridge."
Keim said the Cardinals' first two draft picks, Jonathan Cooper and Kevin Minter have "impeccable character." The Mathieu opportunity was a "unique situation"
Keim said the Cardinals "probably talked to every staff member that came into contact with Tyrann" during his time at LSU, flew Mathieu in for a pre-draft visit and dinner, spent time with Peterson and Mathieu together. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles also knows Mathieu; ESPN reported Mathieu has dated Bowles' stepdaughter.
"At the end of the day, there is always an element of risk with any of these picks," Keim said. "But with the structure we have in place and the agreement with Tyrann and his representative that they will take the necessary measures to walk the straight and narrow, we felt comfortable with the risks involved."
That will include a contract specifically tailored for Mathieu when it comes to drug testing and the like.
"If it's a drug test on a weekly basis, that's what I have to do," Mathieu said. "If it's meeting with counselors, therapists and sports psychologists, those are the things I have to meet. It doesn't matter what they put in my contract. I'm happy they gave me a second chance."
Peterson will continue to be a mentor for Mathieu, although Peterson sees it more of helping as a friend than any true structured situation.
"I told (the Cardinals) I'm willing to put my neck on the line for the kid," Peterson said. "I promise you he will definitely walk the straight line."
He has to. "If there are speed bumps," Keim said. "I can promise you it's a short leash."
If Mathieu succeeds, the Cardinals should have a dynamic addition to the defense. At 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, he isn't the prototypical safety, but in two seasons for LSU, he had four interceptions, eight fumble recoveries and in 2011 scored four times – twice on fumble returns and twice on punt returns.
Arians said Mathieu will begin by playing free safety, but he has the ability to play cornerback and nickel back. He can also blitz well and has a punt return ability "probably only second to Patrick," Arians added.
Mathieu went to LSU wanting to be Peterson. His tears Friday were in part because he will be reunited with his friend and rock, a man who called Mathieu immediately to welcome him to his NFL team. Mathieu said he wanted to make it for himself and the Cardinals, but most of all for Peterson, who stood by him.
"I couldn't have picked a better team to go to," said Mathieu through sobs strong enough it was hard to understand him. "I spent so much time out there with Patrick, Phoenix has kind of become my second home over the past year.
"Just to be part of that organization now and being with Patrick, it's a blessing."