Cards' main risk protection in Mathieu deal

Tyrann Mathieu's new contract with the Arizona Cardinals is making headlines for the financial particulars.

These particulars mean a great deal to the people directly involved in negotiations. Agents, team negotiators and Mathieu himself have a stake in conditions attached to the reported $662,500 in bonus money available to the cornerback from LSU.

The Cardinals were naturally going to seek risk protection in negotiating a contract with Mathieu, whose admitted problems with marijuana led to his banishment from the LSU program. However, we shouldn't let the allocation of several hundred thousand dollars in bonus money distract us from the most important risk protection of all: waiting until the third round before making Mathieu the 69th player chosen in the draft.

At best, Mathieu can reportedly earn about $3 million over four seasons. Multiple players no longer on the Cardinals' roster are counting at least $3 million against the team's salary cap in 2013 alone. Mathieu's contract means little to the Cardinals in that context. How the money is structured matters to the extent that it gives Mathieu incentive to stay clean. To what extent is that? Perhaps only Mathieu knows, but precedent invites skepticism.

For example, Mathieu's new teammate Daryl Washington recently incurred a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse. He had a $10 million option bonus potentially in the balance.

If falling to the third round wasn't enough to catch Mathieu's attention, the conditions attached to a few hundred grand weren't going to make the difference, were they? The way I see it, the most meaningful protections were built in on draft day and through the NFL's team-friendly rookie contract structure.