Tyrann Mathieu turned down a pay cut with the Arizona Cardinals. It’s been reported he said no to a one-year, $8 million contract to play with the Cardinals in 2018, instead opting to play for the Houston Texans for $1 million less. Houston fixed its need for competent strong safety play, something that it hasn’t had since Danieal Manning, and Mathieu got the chance to start again somewhere new on a prove-it deal that could open the door for a larger and more rewarding contract in 2019.
Today, the Texans introduced this impact signing with a press conference. Mathieu’s entire time at the podium can be found here. Below is a copy of the transcript from his press conference.
Before you signed here, DE J.J. Watt was recruiting you on social media. Did he have anything to do with you coming here, and if he did, could you tell us about it?
“I knew J.J. (Watt) for a couple years. Me and him actually share the same agent and we’ve had a couple lunches together. We’ve been able to communicate via phone, via text, social media, things like that. I just wanted to come to a group where guys were hungry. Obviously I’m very hungry at this point in my career. I wanted to come to a team that had great potential, a team that was dominant on defense and I think I made the right choice.”
What was Head Coach Bill O’Brien’s role in getting you here?
“Coach O (O’Brien), my first time meeting him was actually last night. He’s a great guy, great coach, obviously. He’s coached a long time in this league. Just him wanting me here, it definitely encouraged me.”
How would you describe your mentality toward football and the flexibility you bring to the secondary?
“I just try to put it all on the table. Whatever my coaches ask me to do, I always try to do it. I’m a team player and I just try to put it all on the line for the team and whatever my coaches want me to do, whether it’s safety or nickel or cornerback, I’m willing to do that.”
Who gave you the nickname of “honey badger” and what do you think of having that nickname?
“I’m still not sure where exactly my nickname came from. It actually started in college and it just kind of stuck with me throughout my NFL career.”
What do you still want to prove and accomplish at this point in your career?
“I just want to prove my point that I’m one of the best safeties in this league. Obviously I had some setbacks, I had some challenges and I try to take those challenges head on. I had a great situation in Arizona. I think the team helped me out a lot. I think the players in the locker room, I benefited off them a lot. So, I’m really trying to just come here with a clean slate, it’s a fresh start for me and (I’m) just trying to prove my point again.”
What is it about this roster that made you think that they can turn around their 4-12 season last year?
“Obviously, I look at the quarterback position. I look at the talent those guys have on offense. And then I look at the defense. I don’t think I’ve ever played with a defensive line quite like the guys that they have here with (Whitney) Mercilus and (J.J.) Watt and (Jadeveon) Clowney. So, I’m going to have a lot of fun playing behind those guys and I think that played a part in me coming here as well.”
What’s the feeling like of this team in the league from afar when you see this group?
“It was an exciting football team to watch, especially when Deshaun (Watson) was healthy. I think having him, I think it gives a lot of us confidence. I think any time you play on a team with a quarterback with his kind of capabilities, it always gives your team an advantage and like I just mentioned, the guys on defense, I think those guys are dominant as well. So, it was a great group for me. They have some great leaders, some great veterans in the secondary and I’ve always had that where I came from. So, I’m just looking forward to really gelling with the guys, coming in here, just putting the work in and just letting those guys get to know me.”
Can you take us through your decision-making process?
“I tried to make the best decision for me and my family. Obviously, I felt like I had other options on the table, obviously, more money, but I think ultimately the Texans were the best decision for me. Like I said, they have a lot of young guys. They have a great defensive line. They’ve got some veterans in the secondary. I feel like I could come in and really help these guys.”
How much of a role did former NBA player John Lucas play for you coming out of college and everything?
“He played a big role. I think the time I spent with him, just transitioning from college to the NFL, I think he helped me out a lot, especially with my recovery and just pushing forward with my life.”
How much pride do you take in being a leader? When you left Arizona, a lot of people were praising you that way on social media.
“Well, I just try to lead by example, especially on the football field. I just try to play as hard as I can and I try to make the plays that count. Off the field, all I’m trying to do is really inspire these kids, inspire the youth, help my community in New Orleans, Arizona, and obviously I have a new challenge here in Houston. So, I’m really looking forward to not only the things I can do on the field, but the impact I can have off of it.”
As a playmaker, how much do you feel like it’s instinct and how much do you feel like it’s film study or a little bit of both? How do you see the game and let things develop in front of you? Is former NFL S Ed Reed a big influence for you?
“I think coming from Louisiana, you always looked up to guys like Ed Reed. I think part of it is film study, I think the other part is natural, just you going out there, letting your hair down and just playing fast. I try to watch enough film so that on gamedays I’m able to just play the game.”
You’re coming to a city where the baseball team is world champions, the basketball team has the best team record, did that have anything to do with it?
“Well, I missed the south. I missed the food down here. Obviously, like you mentioned, you guys have some great sports teams and I just want to put my hand in the pile. Like I said, I think the Texans have a lot of potential, offensively and defensively, so I just want to put my hand in the pile and help this team win as many games as I can.”
Do you remember anything from the game you played here against the Texans?
“No, not really, besides that one dig route (Bruce) Ellington caught on me. Like 40 yards. Other than that, (nothing).”
You said you had other options and for more money. Why did you sign a one-year deal here?
“Well, I think at this point in my career, obviously getting released on the beginning of the new league year, I felt like I had to make a decision fast, but I wanted to make a safe decision. I wanted to make one that I was comfortable with, like I mentioned. I think coming back down south, obviously I’m closer to my family. I think that played a part. I can’t say it enough, I get to play with (Jadeveon) Clowney and (J.J.) Watt. I can just stand in the middle of the field. I’m going to have a lot of fun.
What impact did Assistant Head Coach / Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel have in you deciding to come here?
“I’m excited. I don’t think I’ve ever had a coach with his kind of pedigree, with all of the Super Bowl wins he’s had and all the games he’s coached in and being a head coach and being a defensive coordinator. Just talking to him last night, I think he has some great ideas for me. I think we’re both going to feed off of each other and at the end of the day, I want him to make me the best safety in the game and I do believe I can get to that point.”
What does Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson mean to you and what’s it going to be like not playing with him for the first time in a couple of years?
“I think Pat was instrumental for me. He was always that big brother I never truly had and I leaned on him a lot. I benefited off him, especially early on in my career in Arizona. I think about this situation and I’m coming to a new team and maybe it’s my turn to be that leader for some of these younger guys. So I take pride in it, I think I’ve learned enough and a lot from not only Pat, but Calais (Campbell) and Larry (Fitzgerald). I think I’m fit to be a leader, I was voted captain at Arizona. Like I said, I’m going to come here, just put my head down and go to work and let these guys feed off my energy in a positive way.”
Can you take us through when your family had to relocate to Houston during Hurricane Katrina and what happened during that deal?
“That was about 11 years ago, something like that. My family, we actually went to a shelter outside of Alexandria (La.), and then from there, we moved right outside of Houston, in Humble, Texas, and we enrolled in school there. We stayed there for about three months until the schools opened back up in Louisiana, then we went back home. Humble was definitely a residence of mine.”
Is it kind of crazy to be back in the Houston area all these years later?
“Yeah, I guess life comes full circle.”
What do you remember about that time when you transitioned to Texas after Hurricane Katrina? Houston went through Hurricane Harvey, but how did Hurricane Katrina affect your life?
“It was tough. Obviously I was a kid at the time and I didn’t really understand the responsibilities that my parents or my aunts or my uncles were facing, but it was a great challenge for us. Not only my family, but for the entire City of New Orleans. I’m sure the people of Houston can attest to the floods and hurricanes and whatnot. Just me being here, obviously I’m going to do my part to try to help this community out. Like I said, I want to do well on the field, but most importantly, I want to do better off the field.”
How hard was it to leave Arizona and did you ever seriously consider staying once they decided to ask you to take a pay cut?
“I did consider staying, and it was definitely hard to leave Phoenix, obviously. Just being rooted in the community how I was and having the kind of fan base that I had there. Not only that, but the contract and the responsibilities of being a professional football player. I took great pride in that. I had a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of great memories in Arizona and like I said, I just want to push forward, move forward and become a leader here in Houston.
Where does your hitting ability come from?
“Well I think it’s just everything I’ve been through. Always being doubted, always being counted out and I think you just kind of take that – you put a chip on your shoulder and you take it on the football field with you and that’s all I try to do. I try to play with a chip on my shoulder, I try to play as if I had a point to prove and I try to play as if no one believes in me.”
Do you have any relationship with Texans CBs Johnathan Joseph or Kareem Jackson?
“I actually spoke with J-Jo the other day and Kareem is an SEC guy, so I’ve been watching him a long time. Like I mentioned, they got some young guys on this defense, but I was real excited about the vets that are on the team. I’m sure that I can learn a lot from those guys, Kareem and J-Jo.”
Where on the field will you play?
“I do believe I will start at safety. And then from there, we will see. The coaches made it clear that (they) don’t want to put too much on my plate, so I’ll focus on safety and I’ll try to work on that craft and help the team there, to start.”
What has it been like to watch OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney from a distance and now you’re joining him?
“It’s been fascinating just to see his growth. Coming from the No. 1 pick and then having some question marks and then coming on strong. I’m excited, man. I watched him play against us last year. Arizona, we came here last year and he’s dominant. I think to have him and J.J. (Watt) on the field at the same time, I’m going to have a lot of fun in the backend.”
What happened to you last year when you overcame injury issues and led the league in snaps played?
“It was really weird, I never got injured until I got to the NFL. After my fourth season, I told myself that I would do a little bit more. I just try to take care of my body a little bit more. I think that’s what ultimately helped me get through the season. I played the most snaps last year, I didn’t miss a game and I leaned on a lot of vets, too. A lot of guys showed me the ropes, taught me some tricks, different things to do before a game, after games, and I think it kept me fresh. I felt like I got better as the season went on.”