For the Arizona Cardinals, releasing the Honey Badger hurts in multiple ways. The Cardinals’ extraordinary faith and 110% investment in him ultimately was not reciprocated by the Badger. The worst problem is the Cardinals did not protect their asset here---because now the Honey Badger is gone---and because of an impossible contract to convert into a trade asset---the Cardinals will get nada---absolutely nothing---in return---not even a potential compensatory draft pick.
What happened to the Badger the past couple of years is fairly simply to surmise. He saw how his buddy Patrick Peterson would get away with shying away from contact and just doing the parts of his job that he liked---all while earning millions and waking up on Monday mornings feeling as fresh as a mist of fine cologne in order to enjoy his daily slice of la dolce vita---and the Badger thought---hey if Pat P. gets to do that, why can’t I?
In the bigger picture---Honey Badger’s defection is yet another egregious PR hit for the Arizona Cardinals. When one of their star players makes it clear he would rather leave the Cardinals and bet on himself and as he now says “go to a team that puts a priority on defense, a team that has a culture of winning,” it exacerbates the league wide perception that the Cardinals are perennial pretenders.
Badger’s “priority on defense” statement goes back to Bruce Arians’s delusional decision to replace highly revered DC Todd Bowles with highly under-qualified James Bettcher, ironically in a year when Wade Phillips, Dick LeBeau and Jim Schwartz were looking for jobs.
Bettcher understandably did not have the experience or the gravitas to hold the star players on his defense in check. Then Bettcher made the rookie mistake of putting in a brand new scheme for the Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship game. Anyone who has coached knows that trying to change horses in the middle of the stream often leads to run away horses and a perilous stranding.
The irony is, of course, that the Cardinals are now coached by a defensive minded head coach in Steve Wilks, who is going to demand the very priority and culture that Badger says he wants to be a part of.
Regardless, Badger is a blatant hypocrite. On NFL Network a few days ago, when asked what team he would prefer to play for he said, “the Arizona Cardinals.” According to Gambo and Somers, the Cardinals asked for only a slight pay cut that would keep his base salary at $9M a year and by fulfilling the added incentives he could earn almost all the difference back. Now Badger is claiming, “the money doesn’t matter” because he just wants to play for a perennial winner. This said from a guy who in recent years has been outspoken about guaranteed money and how every NFL contract should be guaranteed.
The truth is that Badger for the last two mediocre seasons pocketed $30M from the Cardinals---he got his guaranteed money---and now what the Badger wants is to cash in on another lucrative signing bonus. This defection for the Honey Badger is all about guaranteed money---not the kind of money you have to earn---just the kind of 7 figure check his new “winning culture” team will pay him up front just to have him sign his name on the contract.
Finally, as for the Cardinals and Steve Keim, wouldn’t it have been better to rip the band-aid off and part ways with Mathieu rather than tease the fans with your now customary “we tried to get a deal done” passive aggressive approach? This too is a form of trying to change horses in the middle of a stream. It’s a half-assed modus operandi that lacks conviction.
How about flipping the field? Instead of letting the Badger leave and make noise about wanting to go to a team that has a culture of winning, how about coming out and saying that the Cardinals have the expectation that players live up to their contracts and when certain players don’t---they will be released. This way, when Steve Keim, Michael Bidwill and Steve Wilks talk about accountability, maybe finally the words and the music will match---and maybe finally---the Cardinals will be taken seriously.