Having completed major trades for Matt Ryan and Yannick Ngakoue, things have been a little quiet for the Colts in free agency recently. Indianapolis does still have enough cap space to make a significant move, but Chris Ballard is yet to use it. Two significant free agents have been strongly linked to Indianapolis over the past few weeks in Tryann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry. Landry would be a valuable addition to a wide receiver room that’s lacking talent and experience. Yet I believe Mathieu is the better player and one who would improve the Colts most. The question I’ll be attempting to answer today is how much of an impact Tyrann Mathieu could have on Indianapolis.
Mathieu is an elite player and one of the best safeties in the league. He’s consistently picked up Pro Bowl or All-Pro nods during his time in Kansas City, whilst helping the Chiefs to win a Super Bowl and make another. Mathieu has racked up 26 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 10 sacks in his career so far and was ranked as the 58th best player in the NFL in their top 100 countdown last year. Not only has Mathieu been one of the best players on the Kansas City defense (alongside Chris Jones) he’s also been one of their best leaders and the clear leader of their secondary.
There can be no doubt that whichever team gets Mathieu will be getting a brilliant player, but how would he fit in Indianapolis? One of Mathieu’s strengths is his versatility, giving whichever team signs him the freedom to deploy him as they see fit. The Colts have a young and talented secondary, but it is a little lacking inexperience. Pro Bowler Kenny Moore is the best player currently in the Colts secondary, he’s not going to be replaced or moved around. Whilst Mathieu is best at safety and you don’t invest in a player like Mathieu to play him outside of his best position. That leaves Khari Willis’ Strong Safety spot or the Free Safety position occupied by Julian Blackmon. Blackmon has shown real talent in his career when healthy, with Chris Ballard, has previously said he could have Pro Bowl talent. Blackmon has certainly impressed Colts fans as well during his short career so far.
I’d therefore be surprised if Mathieu replaced Blackmon and relegated him to a backup role. That leaves Khari Willis as the player likely to lose their starting spot in the event Mathieu does come to Indianapolis. There’s a case for saying Strong Safety is Mathieu’s best position given his ability to tackle and sack Quarterbacks as well as defend passes and picking QBs off. Having Mathieu start at strong safety wouldn’t prevent him from shifting to Free Safety if Blackmon did suffer another injury with Willis slotting back to Strong Safety. Willis himself is versatile enough to fill in at Cornerback as well if needed, so there’s every chance he’d still play a meaningful number of snaps and not be wasted.
Mathieu would be a real leader at the heart of the Colts secondary and would be a great mentor to younger talents like Blackmon and Rogers. Given that Rock Ya-Sin was sent to Las Vegas as part of the Ngakoue trade, the Colts will likely need to draft a Cornerback regardless of whether they sign Mathieu. Whether Chris Ballard drafts Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant, Cordarrelle Flott, or Alontae Taylor, playing alongside Mathieu would do wonders for the development of whoever joins the team.
Mathieu and Moore would together form a formidable core of the secondary. Alongside Leonard at Linebacker and Buckner at the heart of the defensive line, Mathieu could help give the Colts one of the best defenses in the NFL. As I’ve previously written, I expect the Colts pass rush to significantly improve in 2022. In large part, due to the acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue and the development, I expect from Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. That improved pass rush will make life easier and create opportunities for the Colts secondary. You can believe that Mathieu would take those opportunities, giving the Colts the chance to hit their 2021 target of 40 takeaways in the regular season.
Mathieu will be turning 30 next month, so teams looking to sign him should be expecting him to be elite for another two seasons. It’s possible he could be great beyond that, but teams shouldn’t bank on it at this stage. Mathieu’s last contract gave him an average of $14m a year and his level of play certainly justified the money Kansas City gave him. There’s an argument to suggest Mathieu’s age should reduce his value slightly. However, Harrison Smith is the second-highest-paid safety in the league at 33 years old, earning $16m a year on average.
It would appear as if Mathieu has an offer from the table from the Colts that he continues to consider. Given Mathieu’s age and talent, I suspect he’s worth around $15m a year on a two-year contract. That would pay him slightly more than his last contract and put him in a similar league to Jackson, Baker, and Simmons. Although it is possible though that Mathieu would be willing to take a pay cut for a team he thought he could win big with or would be a particularly good fit for him.
A crucial part of deciding how much Mathieu is worth is analyzing what the Colts could achieve with Mathieu on the team. Predicting next season isn’t an exact science at the best of times, but it’s particularly hard before the draft and months before the start of the season. That being said, given the talent on the Colts roster and Ballard’s skill at drafting talent, Indianapolis should be competing to win the AFC South. Given the strength of the AFC, they’ll likely need to win the AFC South if they are to make the playoffs.
Acquiring Mathieu should make the Colts the favorites to win the AFC South at this early stage. It should also give Indianapolis a real chance to win a playoff game. That being said, I’m not convinced Mathieu would make enough of an impact over the next two seasons to help Indianapolis win a Super Bowl. Perhaps if Mathieu is still at the top of his game and with the Colts for the 2024 season, he could help them win a ring. Providing the long-term Quarterback I expect Ballard to draft in 2023 turns out to be everything they hope for. Although clearly a lot of different things need to go right for the Colts for that hypothetical scenario to become a reality.
Ultimately, Mathieu won’t cost any draft picks, so the calculation Ballard must make is whether the money spent on Mathieu throughout his contract is the best way to make the team better with that money. If Mathieu plays well but doesn’t help the team achieve great things, there isn’t the same long-term cost to the team as the Seahawks are facing having traded two first-round picks for Jamal Adams.
Of course, the price must be right, but I would be extremely excited if Indianapolis were able to sign Mathieu. I was surprised he hit free agency at all and I would expect him to provoke an immediate and noticeable improvement in the Indianapolis defense. Safety isn’t one of the Colts top needs this offseason, but signing Mathieu would make the team better and make it much easier to address the Cornerback position, which is one of the team’s biggest needs.
For now, Colts fans can only continue to wait on tenterhooks for any news and hope that Chris Ballard can finish the deal and bring Mathieu to the Lucas Oil stadium. If he does, I expect the Honey Badger to enjoy his new hunting ground.