Just last week, Mathieu told NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal that his agent believed he could collect even more money in free agency. That turned out to be wishful thinking in a depressed safety market. Instead, Mathieu will gamble on his ability to reclaim 2015 All Pro form in Houston and hit the open market again in 2019.
New general manager Brian Gaine has done well to target his two problem areas -- offensive line and secondary -- in the opening days of free agency. In addition to Mathieu, he has re-signed veteran Johnathan Joseph and imported former Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin and ace special teamer Johnson Bademosi to his defensive backfield.
Among the league's most versatile and instinctive ball hawks when healthy, Mathieu has the potential to transform the back end of Romeo Crennel's defense. Although he started slowly last season on the heels of a disappointing 2016 performance, the 25-year-old finally regained his playmaking ability down the stretch, excelling in November and December.
Mathieu is the rare defensive back capable of playing safety and cornerback, covering top wideouts, behemoth tight ends and jitterbug running backs while also disrupting quarterbacks as a timely blitzer.
With Watt and Mercilus returning from major injuries and Mathieu entering the mix as an intriguing wild card, Crennel's defense stands as one of the NFL's most intriguing mysteries. If that talented trio plays up to its potential, this unit can match or even exceed the Texans defense that finished No. 1 for the first time in 2016.