Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu was a major loss for the Chiefs, but just how much considering he was replaced by Justin Reid?
Before Chiefs fans began mourning the loss of Tyreek Hill, Kansas City already lost another great to the chaos that is the 2022 NFL offseason: Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu was a potential franchise tag, with fans wondering how the Chiefs would incorporate him into future rosters and what lucrative contract the 29-year-old safety might sign.
Then, the franchise tag deadline passed, and then, the Chiefs signed Justin Reid instead. Mathieu was forced to move on, with rumors connecting him to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints swirling until Mathieu finally visited the Saints in April. Still, he remains unsigned, one of the greater travesties of the offseason.
Although Mathieu sometimes vented his frustrations with Chiefs fans, his heart clearly remains in KC. Mathieu admitted to Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star that the surprise Reid signing left him “depressed” and “heartbroken.”
What’s worse is that this wasn’t a question of money for Mathieu: he also admitted that he would have signed the same deal the Chiefs offered Reid, only the Chiefs never offered it to Mathieu.
“To be honest, if they would’ve offered me Justin Reid’s deal, obviously I would’ve tried to negotiate, but if that’s where they drew their line in the sand, I probably would’ve took it,” Mathieu said. “I probably would’ve took it. Agents are going to do their thing, but at the end of the day, it’s the player’s decision whether to sign it or not.”
But Reid and Mathieu are in different places in their career. Mathieu expected to end his career in KC, and the $10.5 million per year would have been a significant pay cut from the $14 million per year Mathieu earned in his first three seasons with the Chiefs. Reid is only 25, making it easier to sign him to a cheaper contract as well as keep him longer.
It’s a difficult question to answer, as Reid is clearly a high-caliber safety who’s shown much promise and playmaking on the Texans. But even Reid admits: there’s no one like Tyrann Mathieu.
“A copy is never worth as much as the original,” Reid told ESPN. “There will never, ever, ever be another Tyrann Mathieu come through Kansas City.”
“But I can bring the best Justin Reid possible to Kansas City,” Reid continued. “I want to play to my strengths. I want to play to who I am.”
Was it worth it to sign Justin Reid over Tyrann Mathieu?
In economic terms, it makes sense that the Chiefs would sign Reid over Mathieu. While Mathieu is a uniquely great player with the intuition that gives safeties the edge, Reid is younger and less expensive. Making Patrick Mahomes one of the highest-paid players inevitably comes at a cost, which means that other veteran players worthy of wealthier contracts won’t get them. Paying a franchise tag of $23.63 million for Mathieu wasn’t realistic—that’s about two years of Reid’s contract for one year of Mathieu—and the Chiefs don’t currently have that kind of cap space. Only so much renegotiating could be done if Mathieu wanted to retire in Kansas City, as Mahomes and Kelce and others would still need to get paid at some point.
But that’s if Mathieu got the wealthier veteran contract he deserved. Mathieu now says he would have taken Reid’s offer, but that’s also with hindsight. Even if Mathieu played for the same amount of money, it’s unlikely he could continue to play at an elite level for as long as Reid is expected to play. Troy Polamalu retired at 33; Kam Chancellor retired at 30. Aside from the countless examples of NFL safeties retiring in their early 30s, there’s data from Pro Football Reference that proves that safeties are more likely to retire early than other defensive positions.
Did the Chiefs jump the gun in signing Reid before having a conversation with Mathieu and seeing what was possible with him? Certainly. But did the Chiefs sign a younger, cheaper player who looks up to Mathieu and hopes to embody what he learned from him in Houston? Most certainly.