Kansas City Chiefs count on ex-Michigan Wolverine Frank Clark, Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The back stories of safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark are remarkably similar, starting with their rocky rides through college and right into their NFL stardom.
So it makes sense that the Kansas City Chiefs are counting on both of them to provide not only playmaking but also leadership for a defense that has undergone a top-to-bottom transformation.
The Chiefs signed Mathieu in March to a $42 million, three-year contract to replace the oft-injured Eric Berry at the back end of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme.
Then in April, the Chiefs acquired Clark from Seattle and lavished on him a $105 million, five-year deal.
Big money for what the Chiefs hope is a big payoff.
“It’s really trying to build a defense with an attitude,” said Mathieu, who spent last season with Houston after a solid run in Arizona. “Any time you can have 10 or 11 guys with a chip on their shoulder, with an edge, a certain kind of presence, a certain kind of attitude, a certain kind of swagger, you can create a collective identity, and I think that’s really what we’re trying to do.”
Make no mistake: Mathieu and Clark both have razor-sharp edges.
Mathieu’s can be traced to Aug. 10, 2012, when then-LSU coach Les Miles announced that the star safety would be dismissed from the program for a violation of team rules. Mathieu was coming off one of the best seasons in school history, one that earned him the Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in the nation and made him a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Mathieu, who still cannot shake the nickname “the Honey Badger,” eventually entered a drug rehab program, then declared for the NFL draft. He wound up going in the third round to the Cardinals, even though his game-changing ability a year earlier would have made him a first-round pick.
Not only did he stay out of trouble, he used that chip on his shoulder to thrive in Arizona.
Despite missing time after tearing ligaments in his knee, Mathieu put up such solid numbers that the Cardinals gave him $62.5 million, five-year extension. But major changes within the organization led it to ask Mathieu to take a pay cut, and he was released when he ultimately refused.
Clark certainly plays with that kind of juice, owed in part to his own college transgressions.
The defensive end had blossomed into an All-Big 10 star at Michigan over his first three seasons, and appeared poised for a big senior year. But on Nov. 16, 2014, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and ultimately kicked out of the Wolverines’ program.
Clark soon declared for the draft and went in the second round to Seattle, where he became a key part of the “Legion of Boom” defense. And like Mathieu, he largely stayed out of trouble — a Twitter spat with a reporter has been his biggest indiscretion — and put up such impressive numbers that the Seahawks placed the franchise tag on him after he racked up 13 sacks last season.
That’s when the Chiefs engineered a trade and signed Clark to a massive extension.