With adoptive parents Sheila and Tyrone Mathieu in the background, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu and team president Michael Bidwill shake hands after Mathieu signed his new contract.
His football has been excellent, earning him all-pro status, and Tyrann Mathieu's influence and impact both with his teammates and the fan base has been remarkable.
But Mathieu also has changed the way an organization views potential players –yet another reason why the Cardinals officially signed the safety Wednesday to a lucrative contract that runs through the year 2021, an amazing end game given his near-pariah status at the 2013 draft.
"We talk about how he has taken advantage of this opportunity? I'm here to tell you he's made me a better man and a better GM," General Manager Steve Keim said during the press conference for the new deal. "He's done a lot of things in terms of opening my mind and changing my philosophies.
"I grew up in the scouting life where you rarely gave people second chances. This guy has changed my philosophy. We still have
guys off our draft board, but we take a deeper look and we get to know people for who they are. Getting to know Tyrann Mathieu the person has what has been special for me."
It's why Keim, team president Michael Bidwill and coach Bruce Arians all wanted to make sure Mathieu didn't reach free agency at the end of his rookie contract following the 2016 season.
And it's why Mathieu never wanted to go anywhere.
"I was fortunate to come to an organization that put their arms around me, believed in me, when a lot of people didn't," Mathieu said.
"I have somewhere to call home for the next six years."
The contract gives both sides satisfaction. According to profootballtalk.com, Mathieu was guaranteed more than $21 million over the next two seasons just for signing. But further salaries are based on being on the roster early in the league year (March), giving the Cardinals protection if Mathieu has further injury problems following two ACL tears in three seasons.
Mathieu remains sidelined on the physically unable to perform list for now, although he is hopeful he will return to practice later in training camp. Not that the Cardinals are concerned – one of the reasons they were willing to get a contract done was because they believe Mathieu has the drive to come back from any injury.
"You'd have to hit this kid over the head 100 times to get him to quit," Keim said, smiling. "I mean, that's why he's the Badger."
The contract, in truth, goes well beyond the field.
"It's not just a milestone for a football career but it's a life milestone," Bidwill said.
With adoptive parents Tyrone and Sheila Mathieu, girlfriend Sydni Russell, son Tyrann Jr. and best friend Patrick Peterson among those looking on (his other son, Noah, lives in Louisiana), Mathieu's new contract completes a redemption story that seemed out of reach after Mathieu was kicked off the LSU football team in college and later was arrested.
The Cardinals took a chance on him in the third round of the 2013 draft. Peterson was here, having vouched for Mathieu's mindset. Even now, Mathieu singled out Peterson Wednesday, saying at one point he wants to be the best player when he's on the field, and "plan on being like Patrick" off it.
"I just saw something special in the young man that needed help, that needed guidance from someone who had been in that position before," Peterson said. "I was fortunate enough to have cousins like (former NFL players) Bryant McFadden and Santana Moss to show me the ropes. Someone showed me and I thought I had the ability to show someone as well. I didn't want that caliber of athlete to fall by the wayside and let his off-field issues hinder someone who could be great."
All Mathieu has done has become one of the best defensive players in the NFL, derailed only by the two harsh knee injuries that he hopes are behind him for good.
Mathieu admitted he could've sunk to his former depths after the emotionally crushing blow of his first knee injury, suffered late in his rookie season. Or even last year. But "I stayed the course."
"This is a process for me," Mathieu said. "I don't think it's ever going to end. For me, it's always about staying on the straight and narrow, being the right kind of guy."
Like Keim, it took a little convincing for Bidwill to buy into the prospect of selecting Mathieu back in 2013, but "it was clear to me he loved football more than anything that got him distracted from football and this just wasn't going to be an issue anymore," Bidwill said.
So as Mathieu signed his new contract, Bidwill happily signed it as well.
"I never really play the game for the money," Mathieu said, "although it's good to be compensated."