Honey Badger has Chiefs facing former team in NFL playoffs

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Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81), as cornerback Rashad Fenton (27) watches, during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, MO – One of the first things Bill O'Brien wants to make perfectly clear is that he never wanted to lose the Honey Badger.

In just one season in Houston, versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu had become such a ball-hawking leader that he was voted a team captain. He piled up nearly 90 tackles, filled in at nickel back when injuries decimated the Texans defensive backfield, and he helped to lead the franchise back to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

So when Mathieu's one-year prove-it contract was up, the Texans made a strong push to keep him. Various reports suggest they offered him a multiyear contract worth about $11 million per year, a nice bump from the $7 million he made last season.

It wasn't enough. Not when the Kansas City Chiefs entered the picture.

With new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo transitioning the Chiefs to a 3-4 defensive scheme, the Chiefs knew they needed to find some help rushing the passer and in the secondary. General manager Brett Veach solved the first problem by trading for defensive end Frank Clark and signing him to a long-term contract, and he solved the second by luring Mathieu to Kansas City with a $42 million, three-year deal and the chance to play for a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Now, the Honey Badger has the Chiefs one game away from a repeat appearance in the AFC title game. And wouldn't you know it? Standing in their way Sunday is the team that wanted so desperately to keep him.

“It was hard. He's a great guy,” O'Brien said. “He's got awesome leadership qualities, you know? Really instinctive, good football player. Cares about his team. Cares about his teammates. But that's the NFL. The NFL, every team has a salary cap to deal with, every player has the ability once they reach free agency to do what's best for him and their family. We have a ton of respect for Honey Badger. He did a great job for us last year.”

He's done an even better job for the Chiefs this year.