Scooter Hobbs column: Let the Badger be himself
Published 9:00 am Friday, May 6, 2022
Maybe this is getting greedy, asking for too much.
Surely it ought to be enough that the Saints and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu have tied the knot in what should have been the most obvious collision of one’s want and the other’s need in this year’s round of NFL free agency.
Yet for all the wondering what was taking so long, it all seems to make sense now.
Email newsletter signup
The Saints had to wait until after the draft. Or preferred to, at least. Mathieu must have gone along with the ploy by a team that in the offseason lost both of its safeties — Malcolm Jenkins (retirement) and Marcus Williams (free agency) — from a really good defense.
My guess is that the Saints, who filled one spot by nabbing Marcus Maye from the Jets, weren’t waiting to see if they could address the other void more cheaply and younger through the draft.
Just a guess, but they were going to sign Mathieu all along. Yet as long as they were noticeably shallow at the position, it kept other teams guessing as to what they might be up to with the draft.
The Saints have always liked the wiggle room that allows them to play those cat-and-mouse games during the process.
Mathieu’s three-year, $33 million contract is less than the $45 mil he made over the last three years with the Chiefs, so it was a bit of a hometown discount, though not exactly pauper’s wages.
It’s still a win-win-win.
Keener minds than mine suggest the Saints defense got even better than before.
That’s a nice bonus.
Mathieu got what he so desperately wanted in returning to his hometown in the state where he became an icon.
The Saints also get the leadership Mathieu learned as he matured into a strong locker room presence in past stops, a welcome addition to an already strong team culture.
The city of New Orleans got better — Mathieu’s off-field work and community contributions have been as Pro-Bowl caliber as his play wherever his NFL career has taken him.
A guy who had some bumps and miscues along the way is now an excellent role model — and he understands and embraces that.
The state of Louisiana got happier, particularly the strong LSU lobby in the Saints’ fandom, which has sometimes wondered why the franchise often seemed to ignore the football factory a little more than an hour west of the Superdome.
LSU fans and the football team are certainly ecstatic. Mathieu was writing million-dollar checks to the program long before he came home and now has been active in jumping on new head coach Brian Kelly’s bandwagon to share his wisdom with current players. His words should carry ample weight. Don’t forget, this is the same program that kicked him off the team at the height of his college glory. It no doubt cost him plenty of money up front when he wasn’t drafted until the third round by the Cardinals.
He has forgiven LSU many times over, with his check book and moral support.
That should be enough.
But dare we ask for more?
OK, I’ll say it. Bring back the “Honey Badger.”
Mathieu never disavowed the greatest, most fitting nickname in the history of sports.
But since leaving LSU, it does seem that he has tried to distance himself from it. Maybe it was an effort to leave behind the Mathieu that departed LSU unceremoniously.
And if that’s what he wants, well, it’s his life.
But it never hurts to ask.
Few even knew what a honey badger was until an LSU assistant coach came across that comically narrated, viral video of the little varmint, this fearless but undersized, ordinary-looking pest that wreaks havoc all up and down nature’s food chain, “taking what he wants,” even king cobras.
I guess it was then-defensive coordinator John Chavis who decided Mathieu was the “Honey Badger.”
Honey badgers are the Tyrann Mathieu of the wild. That’s the way he plays, the most annoying pest on the field, more fun to watch than any LSU defensive player I have ever seen. Just follow the ball and the turnovers and he’d be gnawing in the middle of it.
He’ll be listed as a safety with the Saints.
But he’s best when you just let him play the Honey Badger role, sort of free-lancing it.
It’d be nice if we could just call it what it is.
The Honey Badger.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org