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Projecting contract extensions for Tyrann Mathieu and other defensive veterans before Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates with teammates after an interception during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the NFL season is just around the corner. Preseason action has wrapped up, and we churned out immediate reaction pieces and snap-by-snap breakdowns of every game. Fantasy football drafts are now in full swing, and we’re here to help you win your league whether it’s redraft, best ball, dynasty or otherwise. 

Only one order of business remains before the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys take the field on Sept. 9. Top veterans across the league are looking for contract extensions as they head into the final year of their respective deals, and a handful of household names on defense lead the way.

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Kansas City Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu

Projected extension: Three years, $51.75 million ($17.25M APY), $32.5 million total guaranteed

Although the four-year, $70 million extension signed by Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams fell in line with league-wide expectations, a theoretical deal becoming a signed document still carries weight. Adams’ $17.5 million per year average lifted the safety market to new heights, and Chiefs star Tyrann Mathieu stands to benefit whenever he inks his next deal.

However, Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith’s new four-year, $64-million extension is a complete game-changer at the position for veteran players. For Smith to surpass Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons’ $15.25 million per year average — a record for the safety position when it was signed just months ago — and bridge the gap between him and Adams is a major development. Even with Smith’s three-year cash flow of $45.9 million ($15.3 million per year) just narrowly creeping past Simmons before an $18.1 million salary in 2025, his extension lifts a dormant safety market arguably even more than Adams’ deal did.

In a recent video, nine-year NFL veteran cornerback Darius Butler called Harrison Smith one of the best, if not the best, disguising safeties since Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. Mathieu belongs in that conversation as well, as the Swiss Army knife defensive back leads all safeties in interceptions over the last two seasons (10) and is tied for ninth in quarterback pressures with 15. Mathieu’s versatility and knowledge of the game will make him an impact player for years to come, and he’ll still be younger than Smith even at the conclusion of this proposed extension.

Much like New York Giants safety Logan Ryan — whose positional flexibility PFF's Doug Kyed wrote about in depth after talking with Ryan himself — Mathieu has shown he can excel all over the field. Whether in the slot or at deep safety, Mathieu will adapt as he ages and join the list of experienced safeties who continue to cash in entering their 30s. 

From a contractual perspective, Mathieu has solid leverage heading into the 2021 season. His salary will lead to a huge franchise tag number in 2022 — $23.38M — which essentially renders it unusable for Kansas City. The Chiefs either need to lock him up long-term now or be prepared to compete with other bidders on the open market after the season. 

Former Seattle Seahawks great Kam Chancellor is not a perfect on-field comparison — especially considering he played at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds compared to Mathieu’s 5-foot-9, 175-pound stature — but found himself in a similar scenario at the end of his career. Chancellor’s three-year, $36 million extension signed in 2017 serves as a solid benchmark, with his $12 million per-year average slotting in just below the top safety contract — another Chiefs safety in Eric Berry at $13 million per year. 

Player Age in Year 1 WAR in prior two seasons Two-year coverage grade Two-year defensive stops Contract
Kam Chancellor 29 .598 84.9 51 3/$36M
Tyrann Mathieu 30 .835 76.4 38 ?

Mathieu deserves to come very close to Adams’ per-year average after Smith legitimized the new market at the position. 

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