TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu doesn’t want to be called a safety.
But he doesn’t want to want be called a cornerback, either.
With negotiations between the Arizona Cardinals and Mathieu on a contract extension entering the summer months, his true position has come into question. He’s labeled as a safety but played 62.3 percent of his snaps last season at cornerback, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
When it comes to getting paid, however, Mathieu doesn’t want to be categorized.
“I just want to get paid as a top defender,” Mathieu told ESPN. “I don’t want to be slotted as a corner or a safety, because I’m not Patrick Peterson and I’m not Earl Thomas. I’m kind of different than both of those guys, but I still have the same type of impact on the game as those guys do.
“I just want to be paid as a top defender, and however that looks on paper, that’s what I want.”
Mathieu said negotiations have been “smooth,” although he wouldn’t offer a time frame for completion.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told ESPN “it’s hard to put a timeline on,” repeating his often-used phrase that he won’t “negotiate through the media.”
Although Keim boasted about Mathieu, saying he’s proud of his 2013 third-round pick, Keim said there have been some difficulties in this negotiation.
“It takes two sides to negotiate, and that’s hard to do when there are different factors involved,” Keim said. “We’ll continue to press forward and then see if we can get something done here in the near future.”
Aside from paying Mathieu the market value of a hybrid corner-safety, another factor is Mathieu’s health. The 24-year-old has suffered two major knee injuries (a torn ACL and LCL as a rookie in 2013 and a torn ACL in 2015) and a fractured thumb in 2014.
Both sides understand the dynamic in play between Mathieu’s performance when he’s healthy and his injury history.
“It’s tough because I got two injuries, so the leverage is kind of split in half,” Mathieu said. “I don’t see myself as a safety. I don’t see myself as a cornerback. I see myself as a chess piece, a guy that can move around and can play seven different positions. I don’t necessarily want to be slotted as either or.”
But Keim expressed his desire to have Mathieu return.
In three seasons, Mathieu has been named an All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowler once. He was rated as the top cornerback by Pro Football Focus despite being a safety.
“There are factors in every negotiation, but he’s a guy that we want to continue to be a core player for us and I think that’s the most important factor,” Keim said. “He’s great in our locker room, he works his tail off and he’s the kind of guy that I would be on to return from this injury. So, as far as the injury goes, it’s unfortunate that that has happened in the past, but at the same time, I would bet on Tyrann Mathieu having success in this league.”