Thanks to new deal, Mathis can go deep on longevity path

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

When Rashean Mathis entered the NFL in 2003, he hoped to play eight seasons.

By the time he made it to Year 6 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, his hometown team that drafted him in the second round out of Bethune-Cookman, Mathis saw his goal in sight and realized he could surpass it.

Now, after playing for the Lions the past two years, the 34-year-old Mathis has a two-year contract that will keep him in Detroit for Years 13 and 14.

"There's always a number that each person gives himself, and mine definitely wasn't 13," he said on a teleconference Thursday morning. "But life happens. You get smarter, you get wiser and realize that you didn't know nearly as much as you thought you did when you first entered the league."

And after re-signing with the Lions, Mathis can continue to pass along that wisdom to younger cornerbacks on the roster, like Darius Slay and possibly his own replacement if the Lions choose to draft a cornerback next month.

Mathis has played well since signing with the Lions in August 2013. In his first year, he played 15 games and started 13, replacing Slay in Week 3 as the rookie struggled. He had 47 tackles and 15 passes defensed and was clearly the best cornerback on the team that season.

Last year, Mathis started all 16 games opposite Slay and had 51 tackles, nine passes defensed, an interception and a forced fumble. He and Slay proved to be a capable duo, too, and with Mathis back in 2015, the Lions will return all four of their starting defensive backs and nine of 11 starters on defense — losing defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Even though the loss of Suh and Fairley could hurt the Lions next season, Mathis said he's confident the Lions can plug the hole they left behind. So far, the Lions traded for Haloti Ngata from the Ravens and signed Tyrunn Walker from the Saints to play on the interior.

"In any business field, regardless whether it's sports or not, when you lose a big key piece that made you successful, having someone step up and plug in that gap, that would be the only way that you're able to be as successful as you were before," he said.

Mathis considered retiring last offseason, but re-signed with the Lions that April because he thought he could continue to contribute. Despite interest from other teams, Mathis faced the same two options this year.

"I don't think (there were) any other teams I considered too strongly," he said. "I voiced it a few times how I wanted to remain in Detroit if I was to play again, and I wasn't going bounce around. I felt that I had laid a solid foundation there, so I wanted to stay there."

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said in a statement that Mathis effectively acts as another coach in the defensive backs room, and Mathis said he'll "definitely" continue to help teach the other cornerbacks, including anyone the team adds to become his eventual replacement.

Coach Jim Caldwell also expressed excitement about Mathis returning in a statement.

"We're awfully happy to have Rashean back," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that does a tremendous job of leadership, and not only that, his play was outstanding. He did a great job, I think, at settling down our secondary, communicating, even the way in which he explains things to the younger players. He's a great role model for them, and then when you look at the production that he had on the field, it was extraordinary. He helps us in so many ways, and I think you'll see him continue to do the same in the future."