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Report: Cardinals’ Tony Jefferson to hit free agent market

Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) has his pass knocked away by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the first half of a football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With so many important Cardinals players’ contracts set to expire when free agency kicks off March 9, it will be impossible for Arizona to re-sign all of their key players while maintaining any sort of financial flexibility for the future.

It would be a major upset if the team were to allow outside linebacker Chandler Jones to hit the market, but defensive end Calais Campbell and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger headline a still lengthy list of potential free agents.

At least one of these players will reportedly not reach a deal with the Cardinals prior to free agency, according to Bleacher Report writer Matt Miller.

Miller’s report is somewhat contrary to an earlier report that an NFL source claimed the club was in “serious negotiations” with the 25-year-old strong safety.

Jefferson took a big step forward in 2016 and became one of the premier run-defending defensive backs in the league. He led the Cardinals in tackles with 96, after finishing 2015 and 2014 with 78 and 79 tackles, respectively. He also added two sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

The Cardinals signed Jefferson in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oklahoma. Since then, Jefferson has made a major impact on the Arizona defense throughout his four seasons in the league.

His development has helped the Cardinals defense allow the fourth-fewest yards per game in the NFL over the past two seasons at 313.5. Only the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans have had a better mark over that span.

The average salary of $7 million a year that Miller mentioned would make Jefferson the NFL’s 10th-highest paid safety. This speculative number would trail the contracts of Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, New England’s Devin McCourty, New Orleans’s Jairus Byrd, Philadelphia’s Malcolm Jenkins, Jacksonville’s Tashaun Gipson, Miami’s Reshad Jones and Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

If Jefferson returned to the Cardinals for $7 million, his contract would also tie him with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer for the seventh-highest paid player on the Cardinals’ roster behind quarterback Carson Palmer, cornerback Patrick Peterson, Mathieu, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, offensive guard Mike Iupati and inside linebacker Daryl Washington. Jones is also destined to join the top-five highest paid Cardinals this offseason.

CBS Sports writer Jason La Canfora agrees with Miller’s assessment.

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